Procrastinating (like a pro)..

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My fiance can't stand the way I work. He's very pragmatic, his thought processes linear and sensibly chronological. I'm not like that. I have 1000 ideas, 1000 projects in progress at any one time. I keep track of them with piles of paperwork, lists and piles of list. I'm currently using numerous notebooks, several memory sticks, receipts, napkins and any other scrap paper that's at hand when I need some. Our living room is a mess as a result, as is my brain half the time, and it takes me ages to finish anything because I get bored if I try to focus on any one thing at a time. However, this is how I work. It is how I've always worked and that's despite trying numerous times to clean up my act. So, when I asked him to choose a TED Talk for me to listen to in the bath one Sunday afternoon, he was very pleased with himself when he found one entitled: 'Inside the mind of a master procrastinator' given by a chap called Tim Urban.

Using the scenario of a dissertation he had to produce at university, Mr Urban talks us through his own finely tuned procrastination techniques. With a year to write it, it just doesn't feel all that urgent so (spoiler alert) he ends up writing it in the last 72hrs before the deadline and gets it in, just in the nick of time. Kate Furnivall, a writer friend of mine, is the same with her book deadlines. She'll do the research and some planning and then inexplicably stop until the deadline is looming and the panic sets in and suddenly she has to write the entire book - though you'd never know it to read her work. Some people work better that way, even producing higher quality results in their determination to have it done - and done well - on time; a point proven. I'd argue that, if that's what works for you, we could class it as "positive procrastination".

It's a different scenario however, for the things in life that have no deadline; leaving an abusive relationship, taking a dream trip or pursuing a certain career. Having the courage to be honest with the world and - more importantly - with yourself, about who you really are. The "I'll start the diet on Monday" type of procrastination, which sneaks up on you eventually and points out that you've left it too late. You are left with regrets and the knowledge that the only thing really holding you back has been you. This is the argument made by Mr Urban; that procrastination is fine, as long as you're able to differentiate between the healthy (and human) and the destructive.

As a tool for tackling this, and getting your head into a more practical and productive place, he suggests a simple chart. He worked out how many weeks are in a ninety year life. Obviously, many of us will find we live for a longer or shorter time, but just as an optimistic average he went for ninety. Then, he worked out how many of his weeks he'd already lived. He suggested squared paper, with each square representing one of those weeks. When you look at the numbers like that, and see how many of your squares have already been filled, it certainly gets you thinking.

I applied his logic to my own life and tentative writing career. If I find working this way gets results for me, what's the harm? But am I getting results? I've been pursuing the same career all my young life (minus a few blips where a boy or something equally shiny tempted me off course), but I've only published one book, and that through my writer's group's imprint rather than a traditional publisher. I still make very little money from my writing so have to maintain a day job and the last time I won a competition was in school. I'm constantly working though, constantly, constantly working. So, what am I doing wrong? Is it my working method that's holding me back? I decided I'd still argue not. I employed similar methods while studying for my A Levels and my degree and still came out with my desired grades. So, what is it?

I stayed in the bath, listening to the talk over and again until the water was cold and eventually, I got it. My problem is that lack of enforced deadline. I set myself goals and time frames, but life doesn't care about those. The thing is, it probably doesn't care about the ones set for me either and yet I don't ever remember missing one of those. I got out of the bath and did the maths. How many weeks did ninety years come to? How many had I already lived? The answers turned out to be 4680 and 1487 respectively. It took me all evening to colour in the relevant number of boxes and, out of four sheets of paper, more than one is already full.

Have I made any changes, I hear you ask? Not to my working method, no. It's just how I do it. Our living room is still a mess and it still drives Simon insane. But I do have a greater awareness that, no matter how much I have left, my time is limited and I don't want to have regrets when it runs out. I've doubled down, I'm working harder than ever to keep all those plates spinning and to dedicate more time to the almost-finished among them so I can start accumulating a higher success rate and get myself out there. It's an imperfect system, but I think it'll work, as long as I can keep up with the accumulation of those little coloured boxes.

Since listening to the talk, I've already had to colour in three more..


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