Sunday, August 23, 2015

Blogging and Structured Procrastination

A few years ago, I came across the concept of Structured Procrastination.  The author, John Perry, a Stanford philosophy professor (Emeritus) puts forward that procrastinators actually get A LOT done in the act of avoiding the specific thing that they really do not want to do.  So, the secret to getting that particular something done is to put something else at the top of your list that you want to avoid doing even more (only one of his suggestions).

I finally got around to reading his book this last week (See what I did there? Why yes, I am avoiding stuff.  How could you tell?)

I heartily recommend it.  Dr. Perry is most assuredly a structured procrastinator, he approaches the topic with humor and reframes where he can, which takes some of the bite out of the embarrassment we procrastinators can feel about our mode of relating to the world.  The good doctor is not trying to get psychological, he just describes what is going on in his head with more accuracy than most of us can do, while letting us laugh as well.

The chapter on perfectionism (chapter 2) got me thinking about my blog.  Since I got back from PNG and especially since we have become settled here in the San Diego area, I have wanted to come back to it.  I am RPW, after all, and as many times as I have tried new approaches, I always come back to this one.

But blogging is BIG now.  It has to look right, has to be marketed correctly, has to have sponsors and make money....and then there's the fact that the Lutheran Blogosphere just isn't the nice place that it used to be.  So I keep pinning articles in my Pinterest that I will probably never read and I keep thinking there is a boatload of stuff I have to do before I can actually just sit down and write.

Dr. Perry writes:
 I think perfectionism leads to procrastination.  Many procrastinators do not realize that they are procrastinators for the simple reason that we have never done anything perfectly or even nearly so...

Perfectionism of the sort I am talking about is a matter of fantasy, not reality.  Here's how it works in my case.  Someone wants me to do something-- perhaps a publisher wants me to referee a manuscript that has been submitted, which involves giving an opinion about whether it is worth publishing, and if it is, how it might be improved.  I accept the task, probably because the publisher offers to pay me with a number of free books, which I wrongly suppose that if I owned I would get around to reading.
Perry goes on to describe his fantasy about how well he would do at this, and envisions the process he could take in order to do an exemplary job on this recommendation.  He would do such a fabulous job that the publishing house would be more successful than ever and the author would be propelled to fame and tenure.   So of course, the first thing he would have to do in order to be able to do work on this late into the night is to set up a connection to the library server at home, something which he has, until this time, procrastinated.  Hours later, it is finally set up-- time that could have been spent actually reviewing the actual book.

So after all that investment of time, his daily tasks are now much more urgent and he needs to set the review aside for a little while, which becomes a long while.  Calls start coming asking about when the review is going to come.  So now his success fantasies get replaced by fantasies where his negligence causes the termination of the editor who asked him to write the review and the author being stuck in community college forever because he can't get published.  Once the perfection fantasy is destroyed by the "utter failure fantasy", he buckles down, writes a review that is "perfectly adequate" and sends it in at the 11th hour.

You have to get into the habit of forcing yourself to analyze, at the time you accept a task, the cost and benefits of doing a less-than-perfect job.  You must ask yourself some questions:  How useful would a perfect job be here?  How much more useful would it be than a merely adequate job?  Or even a half-assed job?  And you've got to ask yourself:  What is the probability that I will really do anything like a remotely perfect ob on this?  And:  What difference will it make to me and to others, whether i do or not?

Often, the answer will be that a less-than-perfect job will do just fine, and moreover it's all I am ever going to do anyway.  So I give myself permission to do a less-than-perfect job now, rather than waiting until the task is overdue.  Whic means I may as well do it now.  (or at least start on it tomorrow).
So I decided that it is time to let the blog be good enough to get started.  Over time, I might make it look better or start networking it or move it to a better site.  But for now...this is good enough to get these thoughts out of my head and let you deal with them instead.

Thanks for continuing to follow my blog and going over to read The View From My Mountaintop as well.  I've had several people tell me that they want to see me write again, so here I am...doing this so that I don't have to fill out financial aid paperwork.  But I should go do that now.  Maybe after I check Facebook.