Monday, April 1, 2013

A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven

By Lisabet Sarai

I started this article, on the topic of procrastination, nine days before its post date.

Lest you think that I am showing off, let me assure you that if I hadn't written it today, it might not have been written at all. On the day this post is supposed to go live (April 1st), I'll be on a plane to France, headed for a nearly three week vacation, with uncertain access to the Internet. During the weekend prior to my departure, the 30th and 31st of March, I have to finish a novella that is due before I return – not to mention dealing with all the last minute tasks that crop up before a long trip and the always harrowing ordeal of packing. Friday the 29th I have appointments with my lawyer, my banker and my hair dresser. (I am definitely not going to Paris with gray roots!) From Monday the 25th through Thursday the 28th I have a full day of teaching responsibilities every day. So you see, today (Sunday the 24th) was pretty much the only time I had available to work on blog posts.

Actually I have to produce another Grip post for the 15th of April before I leave as well. But that's not my current task. Right now it's time for me to discuss the all-too-common propensity for people to resist or delay undertaking tasks they know they should be doing.

I will admit that I'm less susceptible to procrastination than many people. I never did an all-nighter in college. I was one of those annoying people who started researching term papers the week they were assigned. During grad school, I was the first student in a decade to complete her dissertation within the nominally standard four years of study. In my writing life, although I have sometimes asked editors in advance to extend submission deadlines, I have yet to miss one to which I've committed. I occasionally fail to show up for guest blog appointments, but that's due to spacing out, not procrastination.

God, how absolutely obnoxious! you are most likely thinking. Before you close your browser in disgust, however, let me assure you that my focus on accomplishing assignments and meeting deadlines has nothing to do with virtue or capability. It's simply a reflection of how anxious and neurotic I am – and how averse I am to stress.

I absolutely hate pressure. I don't do well at all when I have tight time constraints. I tend to get panicky, which seriously interferes with creative thought or productivity. The more stress I'm under, the more poorly I perform. I like to feel that I'm in control of my world (except of course, when I'm the bottom in some kinky scene) and I am ridiculously eager to please (to be expected, I guess, from a sub). Hence I flounder miserably when external circumstances almost guarantee that I'll fail due to insufficient time.

My coping mechanism, my method for avoiding the extremely negative experience of time pressure, is advance planning. I break up my week, or my day, into time segments and schedule the various activities that are on my list into various time slots. Then, during each time period, I try to focus only on the activities I've planned to work on. By keeping my mind off all the other commitments I have to fulfill, this reduces my stress level. If thoughts of another task, allocated to another time, creep into my consciousness, I actively squelch them.

Please understand, I'm not obsessive about this. Mostly, my schedule isn't even written down, though I usually have an active to-do list that gets revised on a daily basis. And if a situation arises such that I can't follow my plan, I try to stay cool. Today, for instance, I'd planned to finish that novella (I only have 2500 words to go), but my first priority was reviewing the edits for my upcoming novel Rajasthani Moon. I expected to finish that by around two PM, but it ended up taking nearly all day. So I took a deep breath, forced down the panic, and decided I could slip in this blog post instead.

I do understand procrastination, though. There are certain things – things without definite deadlines – that I can put off forever. Making phone calls, especially business calls to people I don't know. Going to the dentist or having my annual physical. Straightening out the mess in my desk drawers. Cleaning the refrigerator. Exercising. Exploring new promo sites.

One downside of my time management approach is that there's always something more urgent than these recurring or background tasks. I can all too easily justify avoiding them, because hey, that's not what I've allocated to this time slot – and the task I should be doing is clearly more critical than something without a deadline!

I actually never realized this until this moment. If I were to give myself a deadline for these tasks, I'd probably have no difficulty fitting them into my schedule.

Okay, let's see if that works. It's about seven in the evening now. I have to format and schedule this post, and then send out announcements for my Sunday Snog excerpt, and then, let's say from seven thirty to eight fifteen, I'll commit to going down to the gym.

I'll let you know how it goes!


  1. It occurs to me that you have a pretty good system for accomplishing things. Too bad I'm not prone to lists or deadlines; they all make me crazy, but I do tend to do something well before it's due, and then agonize about it until the actual deadline.

    Have a great trip, Lisabet. Springtime and the loveliness Paris. Someone should write a song about that.

    Be well-
    Daddy X

  2. great post, Lisabet. i can relate. i love checklists & i do my best work to a deadline. i was going to write a post that said i didn't procrastinate & then i looked at my task list & noticed everything related to working on my novel in progress has been pushed back...ahem....have a lovely vacation. we Grippers will be up to mischief whilst you are gone :)

  3. Hi Lisabet!

    Procrasti- what?

    ew list
    I'm not putting it off but i was going by the old list, hadn't been following the messages and didn;t know there was a n and drafted up the "sex and punishment" theme.

    So now I'll be doing this one at the last minute.

    Kinda fits I guess.


  4. Uh oh Garce-
    Now you're gonna have to perform as if you did procrastinate.

    Daddy X

  5. Oh, Lisabet, I love doing lists. In fact, I put off actually doing all kinds of stuff because I prefer to make lists of all the stuff I have to do. Making lists is easy. Doing the stuff on them? Not so much.

    Seriously, though. It sounds as if you have a good handle on how to accomplish the tasks that are priorities for you. (Hey, you can put off cleaning the fridge for months, and just reassure yourself, and anyone else who shares your space, that you're conducting biology experiments.)


  6. Must. Have. Deadlines. And then, when I miss them (which I don't do if I've made a commitment) I'm well on the way to making some future deadline where my almost-done story could fit in nearly as well. If I'm lucky. Okay, sometimes the third time is the charm.

  7. Hello, everyone!

    I'm back.

    With a whole new set of lists...!

    I'll be catching up on your posts over the next few days.

    Thanks so much for keeping the ball rolling.