Monday, April 19, 2010

Good Intentions, Unfinished Tasks, and the Lure of Books

I'm embarrassed when I read my last post. I seemed so sure of myself as I set out to tackle my unruly office.

I meant well but didn't get too far. I did take everything on the floor of the office and place the stuff on the dining room table. I didn't get much farther.

Why? I don't know. I was upset with my husband that morning and ended up retreating to a book. Books are a safe refuge. I often have buried myself in a book to get away from life. I can remember doing this as a child.

I'm an only child and was frequently lonely. However, you can't be truly lonely surrounded by your fictional friends. I would read new books or reread favorite books (some I would reread yearly). During my dissertation I would sometimes escape to read a book or reread an entire series of books which I loved. Luckily, I am a fast reader (100 pages an hour, if the book is good).

So, I was supposed to clean the office (that was my one goal for the day) and instead I had an argument with my husband, made a mess of the dining room, and then retreated to my book.

I enjoyed the book but was left feeling guilty that I didn't follow through on my plans. I'm writing this a day or two before you are reading it, so hopefully by the time this is posted I will have gone back and finished what I started.

Good intentions only get you so far. Following through is the part I am still working on in my life.

As Hamlet says,

"And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action."

Well, cleaning the office may or may not have "great pith and moment" but I certainly lost "the name of action" again. I am a better planner than a doer sometimes.

This is one of the things I am working on during this year long project. Books are great and I'm not going to stop reading. However, I can't let books or other things (like minor disagreements with my husband) put me off from the tasks at hand.

Good intentions are only useful if followed by good actions. This month's theme may involve starting tasks but that doesn't mean I don't want to also finish tasks.

This is especially important when you have one task linked to another. I told myself that I couldn't get started on writing my novel until I had things a bit more under control. I defined that by a clean office and organized bills and other paperwork and a generally clean house.

This is an easy sort of procrastination. You decide to put off doing a task you really want to do by assigning some other tasks first. You then put off those tasks. Serial procrastination! And you can't be blamed for not writing your novel--after all, you still have to clean the house. Ta Da! Excuses are furnished, no extra charge.

I see what I am doing to myself. Now the question is--can I fix the problem??

(I read an interesting article on procrastination which deals with a topic I've seen before--what is essentially productive procrastination--procrastinating on less important things to do more important things and making the procrastination habit work for you. If you are like me and suffer from this problem, you might want to read it to see if it helps you.)

(I'm going to try moving to MWF posting starting this week and see how it goes....)


  1. Hope you made it through to a tidy office!

    If you didn't .. From reading your earlier posts it seems like it might work for you to break down cleaning the office into smaller chunks. Rather than the whole room in one day, just aim to do, say, one drawer, or one shelf. Set a time limit. If you manage more, that's great.

    And be kind to yourself when you achieve that piece of your goal.

    Also from your posts, it sounds like you (both) have a lot of your ideals, emotions and energy invested in your office. Especially if your tidying is intended to include getting rid of stuff, you might need to allow for it to be an emotional experience, and not just a mechanical one.

    I also feel that 'right timing' is important here - while admitting this is a tricky one if you procrastinate a lot. I don't know if you've experienced this - times when a task gets done gladly and without effort, other times when no amount of nagging yourself that you 'ought to' will get that task done.

    Plus ..

    Being really honest here (and please excuse me for being so direct), I keep wanting to ask you how much you truly like yourself. This is coming from someone who likes herself now (most of the time), but spent a big part of her life thinking otherwise. And in some of what you write, I do pick up the same disconnect between lots of worthwhile ambitions and a desire for self-understanding, but, deep down, not enough liking for yourself to believe you are worth the effort of carrying them through.

    Truly liking yourself is the one piece of the puzzle you need to get hold of, if you don't already have it. It's not fundamentally about fear, lack of time, trying to do a lot, or procrastination; if all these things are ultimately masks for, or facets of, not liking or accepting yourself.

    Liking yourself doesn't end procrastination or fear, but it does make it possible to get to a place where you can observe how they operate in your life (rather than being ashamed and overwhelmed), and learn to adapt to them so that they don't stop you from doing what you want to do. I can read that you're becoming more aware of this, which is really good, but if self-dislike is still festering away beneath, it has a way of tripping you up.

    Again, I'm sorry if this is too direct, or misplaced. Only you in your heart know the answer, after all.

  2. I'm sure I'm not the only person who suffers from "self esteem" issues. :)

    I appreciate your thoughts and the time you took to write me.

    I've worked on accepting myself and liking myself and I'm probably better than I was when I was younger.

    We all go through down times, of course, and graduating recently and not finding a job I liked (and then losing the job I did get but did not enjoy) hasn't been the best for my self confidence.

    I'm also rather hard on myself and I'm sure that has come through in my writing. After all, I decided to do this blog anonymously so that I could be completely honest with myself and others but not worry about it ruining my chances to find a good job, etc. I am being brutally honest about my feelings and my problems--but my natural tendency to take myself very seriously and to not want to give myself a break probably come across pretty clearly to the reader and you picked up on this.

    I'll keep in mind what you've said. Thanks!

  3. Hi

    Thanks for your reply - I was very blunt and you took it really well and with honesty.

    For me, your posts are a bit like listening to the insides of my own mind when I'm doing a number on myself.

    Yep, learning to like oneself is one of those journeys, rather than a destination. But it truly does help with everything else.

    It's very tough when you get a knock like redundancy (although like you say, it's a blessing too), and coming out of graduate school can be low too - though I personally think body and mind need time to recuperate, after the massive effort it takes to complete a dissertation.

    Be extra kind to yourself today.


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