Ragtag & Sundry

A few years ago I started writing my regular ‘Ragtag & Sundry’ posts on a Sunday afternoon–an enthusiastic summary, essentially, of the most interesting, weird and worthwhile ways I procrastinated on the world wide web that week.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times this month, I’m procrastinating on writing a particular blog post that I want to write. Increasingly, it’s becoming clear that this one post could probably be five to ten interrelated posts, and I’ve been figuring out how to say what I want to say without being either overly longwinded or neglecting to do the topic (or indeed myself, as a writer) justice.

So, as yet another week goes by when I haven’t finished writing the post that prompted me to start up my old blog again, I figured I’d fall back on the old faithful Ragtag & Sundry posts and share a couple of things I found interesting or worthwhile of late.

A passionate procrastinator, one of my favorite ways to procrastinate is to read about procrastination–what it is, why we do it, and how to prevent or overcome it.

Always late to the party, I recently ‘discovered’ the delightful Wait But Why website, and I love their clever yet entertaining take on the underlying psychology of procrastination (aka the action of ruining your life for no apparent reason), and how to beat it by changing the story you tell yourself about it.

Storylines are rewritten one page at a time, says the author. Aim for slow, steady progress, adding:

“[The] key isn’t to be perfect, but to simply improve. The author who writes one page a day has written a book after a year. The procrastinator who gets slightly better every week is a totally changed person a year later.”

Perfectionism is definitely at the heart of my procrastination, particularly when it comes to writing about things I deeply care about. Like I say, I want to do justice to the topic of the post I’m writing, and I feel an anxious need to get it just right. I’m nervous that some of the things I say might alienate people; or I find myself searching for small flaws or inconsistencies in my argument, as though a single mistake or inaccuracy in my post will wind up doing more harm than good.

Afraid of being misunderstood or caught out somehow, my post (as it’s currently written) is chock a block with qualifying remarks and ‘in order to understand this, you should probably know this‘ or ‘when I say this I don’t mean to imply that‘ kinds of sentences. In short, the post is riddled with outsized anxieties and apprehensions, and I need to edit it from a more peaceful place of self-assurance and courage.

This piece in the New York Times–Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing To Do With Self-Control–resonated with me a lot, therefore. Writing against the pervasive idea that procrastination is laziness or a simple time-management issue, the article instead presents procrastination as a complex and irrational form of self-harm that is governed by our inability to manage negative emotions around a task.

“Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks — boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond.”

In short: procrastination is not a time management problem, it is an emotion regulation problem–a concept that felt intuitively true as soon as I read it, as well as more deeply and holistically beneficial than the usual theories and strategies I come across.

One strategy cited in the NY Times piece is to forgive yourself in the moments that you procrastinate. In a 2010 study, researchers found that self-forgiveness for procrastination can reduce further instances of procrastination, and that self-forgiveness supported productivity by allowing individuals to move past their maladaptive behavior and focus on a task or upcoming event “without the burden of past acts.”

Another tactic is the related practice of self-compassion, which the authors describe as treating ourselves with kindness and understanding in instances of pain or failure rather than being harshly self-critical. Practicing self-compassion connects us to our common humanity, allowing us to perceive our experiences as part of the larger human experience rather than seeing them as separating and isolating. Self-compassion entails being mindful–“holding painful thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness rather than over-identifying with them.”

The (not necessarily) simple act of identifying and naming my aforementioned anxieties and apprehensions around my post is already hugely helpful and has given me a more balanced perspective about the whole thing. Not only am I putting far too much pressure on myself to write the “perfect post,” I’m also creating unrealistic expectations about the effect the post will have on people.

It’s one thing talking about something with a close friend or family member who knows, loves, and understands you; it’s another thing to share your heart and inner world with people you’ve never met

I care so much about the issue I’m writing about, I have to remind myself that the majority of people don’t see things the same way, and I’m already preparing myself for the likelihood that people will either not care or be outright dismissive or aggressively defensive about it. It’s one thing talking about something with a close friend or family member who knows, loves, and understands you; it’s another thing to share your heart and inner world with people you’ve never met, especially in a world where we behave and respond to each other online in ways that we would never do face-to-face.

I’ve also been feeling self-conscious and somewhat foolish that I returned to blogging with a specific goal in mind but I haven’t yet articulated that goal or made my purpose clear. I’m frustrated at myself and impatient to get going with the real reason I wanted to begin my blog again. From anxiety and ambivalence to fear and foolishness, reticence and impatience, a plain old blog post can provoke a whole lotta feelings! Some self-compassion is definitely the order of the day.

Ironically, compassion is at the heart of the post I’m writing, and will form the foundation or guiding force of this blog in general, so for today at least I forgive myself for not being quite finished with the post I’m working on, and will walk into a new week with a little more kindness and understanding of, and for, myself. I may not yet have written the post I set out to write a month ago, but in the course of procrastinating around it, I made some useful connections regarding my underlying thought-processes and fears about it, so this “wasted” time has not been entirely in vain after all.

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Photo by Aleksandr Ledogorov on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Ragtag & Sundry”

  1. Dear Deborah, I too have procrastinated many a time, and so a lot of the issues (and solutions) you bring up resonate with me, too. I have a couple of things to share on this topic. First, there’s something one of my professors said to someone else about writer’s block, and it was repeated to me. I found it a bit harsh, but still a good marker for self-discipline. He said “Writer’s block is just a kind of arrogant perfectionism.” He was a very self-disciplined person, so it was natural for him to say that. But someone who’s more merciful and also a hell of a lot funnier on the topic is Anne Lamott, in her book about writing, “Bird by Bird,” which I just got finished reading, and which helped me immensely. I don’t normally write many non-fiction essays, at least not since my school days; instead, I write fiction, poetry, and literary essays, usually. But after reading Lamott’s book, I tried my hand at it again, and found that if nothing else, however good or bad the endeavor might turn out to be in someone else’s book, her advice did free me up and inspire me to write a short essay. So, if you haven’t encountered her book yet, maybe you might like to read it. It’s hilariously funny in so many places, and she clearly has learned to love and forgive herself as much as is consistent with still being a good person. Anyway, I hope your Easter or spring holiday was lovely, and that you are going to keep writing, I like reading you.

    1. I read “Bird by Bird” a few years ago and also got a lot out of it.

      As harsh as it sounds, I think I agree with the professor about the arrogant perfectionism….at least in some instances. I’m up against a copywriting deadline for a client this week and struggling because the subject matter is not all that interesting to me (in fact, to be honest, I’m somewhat disdainful of the topic I’m being paid to write about). I realized I was avoiding working on it yesterday because I was trying to make the topic more interesting than it can ever possibly be. Once I accepted that, due to the subject matter, this is never going to be the most riveting or intelligent work I’ve ever produced, I was finally able to focus and write from a place of “good enough” rather than forcing it to be this unrealistically perfect project. I think it’s good to push ourselves to write as well as we can, but perfectionism can definitely be a block against just getting words out on the page.

      And, yes, I had a lovely spring holiday. I don’t really celebrate Easter (though I do like the bit with the chocolate), but we had some house guests who are Jewish staying with us and it was very cool to join them in their Passover seder meal – I’d never experienced that before and it was very interesting…. will probably be the subject of an upcoming blog post… if I ever get around to it haha.

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