Windows

Okay. Gonna actually write about writing for a change.

I’ve talked many, many, oh god why so many times it’s just embarrassing about how bad I am when it comes to procrastination. This past week and a bit have been – well, not totally unproductive, to be fair, and if yesterday and today hadn’t been public holidays I may well have gotten more done. But I didn’t, and that’s the important thing.

Tonight I identified a key aspect of my procrastination: overflow. Overflow is having a number of tasks scheduled throughout the day (or week or whatever) and, upon not starting the first one and the time for the second one arriving, keeping myself from starting the second one because I haven’t done the first one. Now, this would make sense if starting the second one depended on finishing the first one, but in my case it doesn’t; my tasks are “work on assignment X” and “do novel revision”, in that order, every day from now until – well, honestly, until the end of semester. I have a lot of assignments. My point is that the only way in which they’re connected is that they both involve me writing. I don’t need to finish my 5 hours of assignment-writing in order to start my 3 hours of revision in any practical sense; it’s just the schedule. And overflow is when I procrastinate using that schedule of tasks as an excuse, and my backlog grows larger and larger.

As I say, I’ve done some work. It’s been mostly readings and watching movies, and then making notes. Not so much with the notes though, and while it’s important that I do readings and watch movies so that I have stuff to actually write my assignments about (and therefore I should have worked that into my schedule, which I did not), getting things written and off my mind is the main objective here, and that hasn’t happened.

So. Overflow. Using the excuse of one uncompleted task to justify not starting any other tasks. It’s a killer.

My solution?

Windows.

Having a schedule is, basically, allocating windows of time within which you will complete individual tasks and then stringing those windows together over an extended period of time. Overflow is when one task is left incomplete and that’s use as an excuse to never even make a start on the next one. Therefore, the solution as I see it is to move on anyway. Get something done. And also (and more importantly in the long-run), break that habit of making excuses and creating a backlog on the basis that Item 1 was not ticked off the list.

Your role here is to undermine that voice in the back of your head that tells you that starting the next thing before you’ve finished the first is not something responsible people do, because responsible people would have finished the first task. This voice is basically trying to make you ashamed of yourself, but in doing so it’s also giving you an excuse to not do any work. It’s a strange kind of two-faced inner enabler; it’ll let you off the hook in exchange for apiece of your self-esteem. And that’s what the window strategy is here for: shutting that bastard out.

I have to assume that having a history of dreadful self-esteem and self-image contributes to my particular experience of procrastination, but even if that’s not your experience, hopefully the strategy of making the tasks the priority rather than the schedule will help out those of you who, like me, have a really hard time getting started with multiple tasks on the go.

And if it’s just one, the same principle applies: if you miss your window, then you miss your window and that’s that. Why? Because it feels horrible. That’s incentive. That’s feedback. That’ll give you an opportunity to reflect on your priorities and maybe if you need to change them – and if the answer is no, then it’s also an opportunity to remind yourself that, yes, you do actually want to get this stuff done.

I’ve missed my window for academic stuff by a country mile over the past nine days, and I’ve done about as well with creative stuff. But that’s that. I’ve still got five days to do three assignments, and if I use my mornings responsibly then I may not even need five days, which means I’ll be able to prepare for the horrible lop-sided first week back (and every week after that) after the mid-semester break.

However this goes, these three assignments have to be done by the 28th if I want any chance of remaining sane throughout the rest of semester. If that means handing in shitty assignments, then I’ll hand in shitty assignments, but that’s all well and good to say – I’ve got to actually write those shitty assignments too.

Hopefully this strategy will get me there. Windows are closed tonight, but will open tomorrow. As will university, after two days of Easter observance, which means access to the library so that I can sit and study without checking facebook or staring glassy-eyed at YouTube for hours on end, and the AV library so that I can watch movies and write about them. Let’s see how it goes.

(I’ve actually started my Beautiful Creatures review now; I had 18 pages of notes but thankfully they were pretty repetitive – as was the book. Repetition and filler. So if I get everything I’m meant to be doing out of the way in time I shall reward myself with some literary criticism. Here’s hoping.)

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