Work in Progress: Procrastination and the Fixed Self
I like to procrastinate. Who doesn’t? Maybe procrastination is a corollary to anticipation being the best and worst part of anything. If I need to do something—not a critical, drop-dead-deadline task, but an optional, it-should-happen-soon chore—then I like to postpone it.
Case in point: My home office is currently in progress. It needs paint and furniture and all the tchotchkes that will make it feel like a livable room for work and play. When you consider that I used to work in the dining room (which was also basically the living room), a separate room, even if it’s in progress, is a step up.
But I have spent so long thinking about these four walls. It took me weeks to narrow down a vague notion of “I want bright and cheery” to actual colors. Took even longer to buy some paint samples. Then, those jars and brushes sat on the floor. Behind me. Didn’t want to look at them while I worked.
Choosing a color became the thing. The thing I had to do and couldn’t. The stuck point. Nothing else about my surroundings could be repaired before I settled on the color. I unearthed every tired and overworked reason to bargain my way into procrastination and stay there. I’m too busy. I’m tired now. I don’t have time. The putting off became encased in a set image: I needed some amount of time, an amount I didn’t have, to dip a brush in a jar and spread it on a test swatch. It was always better to wait, until the weather and stars and hour and minute hands could align.
Cozy procrastination. An old familiar sweater I wrap myself in. How many times have I used it as a shield against the cold, cruel prospect of writing? Easier to convince myself that my mood or the barometric pressure or the shape of the clouds in the sky isn’t right for some sort of magic that needs to happen. Excuses. All of it.
One workday recently I was in between a few tight deadlines. I was feeling like I couldn’t breathe. Everything had been dialed up to 10. I couldn’t find my focus because my focus was split everywhere. I was probably sleep-deprived. The telltale heart of those paint jars became too much. I had maybe five minutes before I needed to get started on another document, and I decided that was the time to paint. (I never said it’s a rational endeavor when procrastination lifts.)
I spread out an old copy of the Reader on the floor and wrote down the names of the colors on some scratch paper so I wouldn’t forget. I applied the first coat to each swatch. I stood up and went back to my desk, glancing at the work in progress behind me.
It didn’t even take five minutes. Why did I spend so long procrastinating? I will always remember this feeling, I told myself—the magical moment when what was stuck becomes unstuck, and tackling anything and everything in the rest of the world feels possible.
It’s safe to stay blocked. I can have a handle on the situation—if I’m not writing, if I’m preventing myself from creating, then I don’t have to face the harsh facts of my work not measuring up, of making the wrong decision, of taking a leap with no net. But where is the joy in this kind of safety? Where is the music? The risk?
I keep going back to a line from one of my yoga DVDs. Offer up your fixed self to the self that has no limits. My fixed self procrastinates, but my other self—the real me—creates and decides and leaps, and she is limitless.