Apr 29, 2015

Muse: On Getting Over Procrastination...Later

Benjamin Franklin's daily schedule. Showoff.
There is a quote that I've been seeing a lot of on the 'net that has given me a slight twitch. It reads: "You have as many hours as Beyonce."

Um, yeah, about that....

It's easy to be flippant about time when you're talking about a person who has gobs of money and a team of minions working to make things go as fanciful and fabricated for them as possible. Though I'm in the minority that is convinced that Beyonce is like that android in Men In Black --- you know the one, where they open its face and inside there is a little alien operating the controls --- I still dislike that quote. It maybe harmless and petty (and maybe my aversion towards Beyonce is showing...) but it just sounds...arrogant, superior in its tone because you don't know my life, and you don't know my struggle with time management.

As I'm at the jagged edge of my '20s, time management is something I thought I'd get the hang of by now. I should know that when my phone alarm sounds at 8:00 in the morning, that I need to get my ass up and run the list of to-do's in my brain while I brush my teeth. Yet, I roll over and it's 9:00...9:30...10:00, and then I'm up and rushing, and putting off projects and responsibilities, being just way behind on everything. Being on a fine-tuned schedule is something that I wish I could be on. It's actually something I'm supposed to be on considering that I have things to write, errands to run, social media to engage in, and Bubble Witch Saga 2 to dominate. Every start to a new month, I tell myself to get on some sort of routine. I rattle off in my head, "Okay, Jen, this upcoming month you're going to go to bed before 2am. You're going to have all your posts for the week completed and ready to be queued. You're going to write one full chapter and be done with these so-called "novels" before the end of the year." Yet by midnight, I'm like "screw it, let's just Pinterest and Netflix the night away! Weeeee!" and I'm further off-balance.

I hurt myself.

There was a blessed time where I was diligent about how I organized my time, and well, that was back in school, because teachers, bells, and homework assignments molded and organized my life. When unemployment came along, it slammed my head against the wall and time became an afterthought. I was slipping n' sliding into brunches, sleeping through my alarm, and starting my day with pep talks that had me as a stiff-upper lipped Scarlet O'Hara quoting dramatically, fist to the sky: "tomorrow is but another day!"  I'm ashamed to say that I got comfortable in this groove, and with this shame I felt worst, and fell further and further down into the trap of disorder that I had built for myself. The Hairpin's Jessica Goldstein waxes a lot of truth by saying the first thing to go when you're unemployed is the caring. You really just stop giving flying f*cks about what is going on within and around you, and it just paralyzes you. I was pretty much shell-shocked, the post-graduate blues had settled in and I was wallowing in a sticky vat of self-doubt and debt, and every day I begrudged waking to a new day. As an extension to this depression, the fear of failure also became internalized.

When the sun streamed in from that brutal arched window in my bedroom, I would wake up, and my brain would be screaming. Silently screaming. My eyes would widen, my body would go frigid, it demanding to be left alone, encased in the sheets. I was a wide-eyed corpse awaiting a burial. These silent morning screams meant another day where I had to face my failures. Face everything I thought I did wrong in college that led to this state of immobility that I'm in. Face a social media network where everyone around me, friends, colleagues, notable names with my age and racial background were doing big things. Face my shame of being inadequate and lost. Face my stupidity of being my own worst enemy. My depression-linked procrastination and fear had joined hands and skipped down a morose and dank hallway together, dragging me down it. Once I thought, "I'm stupid. I'm a terrible writer and a terrible person. I have failed", my brain betrayed me, and with every task that was put in front of me from there on out I began to come to a solution that would later on entrap me: "I can't do this. I must put it off ". 

To make a sadistic threesome, insomnia became my cuddle buddy, urging me to feel my inadequacies at the twilight hours, forcing me to stay up and drown myself in the glowing screen of my television, my laptop, any and every distraction that would try to subside my ugly thoughts --- this all at the price of my physical health. Operating on little hours of sleep in a daytime-oriented world proves to be brutal not just on the mind, but the body, and you betcha I was feeling sluggish, and to look at myself in the mirror was equivalent to turning into a gruesome, gooey zombie --- I was looking and feeling completely snatched.

Yes, that was me, every morning when I got the courage to look at myself in the mirror. Just wasting away.

My parents, bless them, tried to help by getting me on a schedule --- which was really their schedule. They are two people who go to bed early, rise early, and have different responsibilities to pertain to throughout the day than me. Yet, they tried their hardest to motivate me as they are decent parents who want to see me succeed, and I guess they love me or they would've tossed me out on my ass years ago. My Dad said it right, "We're not giving up on you." And they both meant that. Still my mother's sing-song Mary Poppins perk (she is so damn chipper in the mornings, how? why?) doesn't help the bitter medicine of procrastination to go down, and it especially doesn't help to see her complete projects and chores when I'm struggling to complete a two paragraph blog post or even clean up the chaos that is my over-stuffed bedroom.

Oh how I looked for excuses for my depression-led procrastination.

I brightened at the fact that procrastination is inheritable, that it wasn't just a "me" thing, that it actually came from a DNA thread that I had zippo control over. I also brightened with the New Yorker's findings that humans have been slackers since B.C. times. Yeah, BEFORE Christ, baby. The Egyptians were complaining about it with hieroglyphics, and ancient philosophers were condemning its annoyance as it was screwing up their thought patterns and making scroll-work tedious. Not alone I was. Still these revelations weren't excuses, they were pillows of comfort to my bruised mindset, but they didn't absolve that my real issue for putting things off was a lack of self-control.

"Once you've managed to get a routine of sorts chugging along, it will run on autopilot if you just provide the spark," Ragini at Rookie, said in her piece, How To Structure Your Days If You're Depressed. As tough as it was, as much as I was mentally kicking and screaming, I had to embrace being on a routine in order to get back mentally on track. All while depression, anxiety, fear, and insomnia was whispering in my ear, I had to tell them shut the mess up and push them out of the door of my mindset.

Ragini describes in her piece (which is a great read, btw) about handling her depression-laced procrastination by doing 'micromanaging', and it's a process that I have started doing somewhat recently. Micromanagement is the act of transforming your day, your life into pieces or manageable blocks, or chunks of time. At first I was skeptical about it, mostly because it seemed daunting. I mean, I had to work at this? *body rolls over a bag of mini Twix like a sloth* But once I gave it a shot, in just a few days, I saw that it was helping me immensely with edging myself out of my depressive states. Slowly, I wasn't procrastinating, I was de-cluttering my mindset, I was seeing the mountain of tasks that I had been avoiding depleting. I wasn't going at a fast speed, no, I was going at a speed that I was capable of handling, and it was working.

To micromanage, you have to literally break down all the things. From cleaning, to working, to social networking time --- you gotta break it ALL down. How can this be done?

First, think about your short term goals, the things you can do that take up less time and less effort. For example, I had massive clutter in my closets, dresser drawers, and bathroom cabinets. So instead of thinking: "I GOTTA DO IT ALL NOOOOOW!!!" I told myself (calmly): "Do one drawer a day, then the next day do a bathroom cabinet, then the next day do one side of the closet..." When I thought this and when I got up and did the action, I felt...better. Relieved. I had done something for the day and I felt good. I felt worth. Like it was said, when you're depressed from being unemployed, that inadequacy pops up, but now I felt adequate even though it was me tossing out random empty shopping bags that I had collected in my closet for some bizarre reason. I had completed a task, and I was ready and motivated to do more. And though it took almost a full month, I had cleaned up my entire habitat and it wasn't this crazy Amazonian jungle of clothes, shoes, jewelry, books, and boxes --- it was organized and manageable.

As for my long-term goals...those were a bit tricky because I'm extremely impatient when it comes to thinking in the faraway future. I want shit to happen N-O-W. But I cannot finish my novel, if I'm thinking about the book tour and thinking of having Alice Walker write the praise blurb to my next book. I gotta write that damn debut novel first. So I thought about another author instead, the Irish literary genius, James Joyce, who was allegedly noted for being content to just write ---get this --- a sentence a day. Yep, a dang sentence. One line. That's it. This from the dude who wrote Ulysses, one of the longest and most challenging works in the history of English literature. He was certainly doing the most with his micromanaging, but he had gotten ish done, and it was inspiring to me none the less on how I should approach my writing. So I went old school and bought a planner and once I laid it out on paper what posts to finalize by such and such a date, and how many chapters I would do in week, it was easier to see how things were going to go. Even if I didn't get to complete everything I wanted to do that day, even if I only got one page written, or had one starting paragraph on a new post, I would just move my writing responsibilities down to another hour, or even another day, and not guilt myself over it. I kept it moving and well, a lot of the posts I had in drafts got done, and the novels I'm working on have blossoming word counts.

With this new mindset intact, I was now thinking clearly. I wasn't so scared of facing the day, I wasn't so overwhelmed to where I wasn't sinking into my depression anymore. I was getting up, I was crossing things off lists, I was seeing progress. I've already admitted that I'm someone who doesn't really like a whole bunch of structure as it is overwhelming and life is unpredictable as is, but this option is quite comforting in that it allows you and you alone to dice up your day by your own strength and that when those wacked-out random moments occur it won't feel like such a pile on.

I also got some inspiration from Daily Routines, a now defunct site that highlights the daily schedules of notable figures from presidents to poets. Looking at someone else's daily schedule (like Benjamin Franklin's above), seeing how they applied their time, and knowing what they have accomplished in their lifetime, further gave me the courage to try and map out my own daily game plan. Who knows what my schedule will lead me towards? I won't find out unless I actively do it.

Funnily, micromanaging is a mental process as it is physical. It almost tricks your brain into thinking: "I have as many hours as...well, Beyonce" (ha) when you really don't, but you're still going to get some stuff done that will get you to that pop star level game of success. Just that you're going to be your own personal assistant and rock at that instead...if that makes any sense. (And if this isn't making any sense, just skip to the next paragraph...because I'm rambling now...).

I'm not saying all of this micromanaging stuff is fool-proof. Breaking the day down by hours and whittling down your task list is tough to do, and it might make you feel even more overwhelmed than before. I will also note that I'm not fully cured from feeling inadequate or fearful of what's around the bend in my life. I still have days where depression, anxiety, and insomnia loom, where I go off autopilot and procrastinate and ignore the snooze button like crazy. Becoming accustomed to structure, to find solace within yourself in the battle of self-control is a long and arduous process --- it just doesn't happen overnight or with one quick read of a wordy musing like this. But it does happen if you allow yourself some credit. Credit that you have gotten this far and will continue to do so. This is the thought I was lacking, I was pressuring myself to perfection, trying to push myself to do too many things at once when all I needed to be was delicate towards my fragile interior and the time frames I was operating in. For the time being, micromanaging is what is working for me to quell this.

I have to remember that I am not a robot (word to Marina & The Diamonds). I am not Beyonce and I do not possess the big game hours that she has, but time IS on my side, and that in time, I can manage procrastination. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but sooner and better than later. 

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