Not Putting Off

Not Putting Off

I'm going to describe something that might sound like procrastination, but isn't, quite. Or possibly it is and I've had a different definition of procrastination than everyone else this whole time. There's a thing that happens when I encounter a task that, for whatever reason, I find uncomfortable. That is: I decide I need to think about it some more before doing it, then I think about it a bit, or maybe I don't. Either way, I don't do it, and I either add it to the list of things to do 'in a bit' or I push it back in my calendar.

I think the reason I want to distinguish this from the "oh I'll just do it later" of procrastination is the focus on needing more time to think about it. I'm putting it of, in theory for something. There are some things that generally require some thought—this is certainly a genus of task that exists—however usually when I'm thinking this, it's not true of that task. I've found it possible to tell when this is the case because for the tasks that do not, in fact, require more thought, I have an almost physical aversion to them; I'll look away from where the relevant email or Trello card is on the screen. They're also surprisingly amenable to the eat-the-frog, just have a go for five minutes-style methodology.

The same also goes for more involved processes. I had developed a habit, I realise, of not doing my thinking in the moment; of putting off the task of e.g. reading something with any depth until such a time as... I dunno, I had the capacity to think, I guess? That may, again, be necessary on occasion, but in general I'm not really 'saving my brainpower' for anything; I'm building up a big stack of things you'll never actually do anything with, for no good reason. If you read something and you really, truly can't engage with it, it's possible that I'm too tired—this happens!—but it's also possible that I do not understand it because I don't understand the subject well enough to just pick it up. Which is fine! Go and work on that subject some more until you can.

The thing I've realised is that this putting things off almost invariably leads to buildup, developing a backlog, which becomes corrosive to routine, to discipline, to just cracking on; it makes things feel like more of a chore because you feel like you've got to deal with everything at once, or once you've finished one thing you'll have to go through all the other things too, or replying to emails would invite a response which is more stuff to do, etc. I used to know a guy who worked in a very big company and whose workflow management seem to revolve around being really slow to respond to emails. I used to find it weird, until I realised that at times I've been guilty of falling into the same habit myself.

I've been trying to work with this as much as I can, and I think in the case of e.g. books or films or something it helps to think of things as a library rather than a backlog: something which may be selected from rather than something to be worked down. Tasks, especially work tasks, are different, of course, because for the most part you kinda have to do them (though it has been my experience that sometimes—more than you think—you actually don't). I'm just trying to explore this at the moment, but I think my main methods of attack for this are currently maintaining inbox zero—not letting communications build up, not being afraid of response—and making it a priority to keep my Anytime tasks fresh and do regular weekly/monthly clearouts. I don't think I'm 100% there—goodness knows I'm going to have a bit to clear through when I get back in tomorrow!—but it feels good just to have articulated the shape of the problem.

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