Several very large deadlines lurk on my horizon. Instead of clicking into high gear to get going I’m barely pedaling fast enough to keep from tipping over. The more I excoriate myself for falling behind, the farther I fall behind. I could easily blame this on chronic insomnia or existential angst or a nasty case of what-the-hell-did-I-get-myself-into. Blame, however, is useless for motivation purposes.
I was raised with the Puritan ethic: work hard, be polite at all costs, and avoid the unspeakably vile sin of laziness. Yet I’ve come to believe it’s in our do-nothing moments, like lying in the grass watching the clouds stroll by, that we most truly inhabit our lives. This probably explains why two tigers, named Full Tilt and Full Stop, tend to snarl at each other in my mind. I compromise to keep those tigers at bay.
I do this by letting myself be lured by the call of other things I want to do, things that suddenly seem delightful in comparison to the things I have to do. Here are a few examples.
- When I agreed to help a non-profit streamline their mission statement, I stalled by reorganizing kitchen cupboards.
- When I committed to editing a dissertation on organizational differences in international companies, I put it off by planting a few dozen strawberry plants and weeding the asparagus bed.
- Heck, a few years ago when I was supposed to be editing an anthology, I dawdled by writing poetry. That turned into a whole poetry collection!
This, my friends, is what I call Sideways Procrastination.
The practice is weirdly energizing. For rationalization purposes, I tell myself that by doing something amusingly unrelated I’ll return to the task I’m avoiding with a fresh outlook and enhanced enthusiasm. I’m not sure it works that way, but it’s my operating excuse.
Here are three of my recent Sideways Procrastination endeavors.
My dear friend and filmmaker Susan took me along on her latest adventure, filming Artocade in Trinidad Colorado.
To send her a small token of my thanks, I turned a toy truck into a toy art truck. Gluing baubles and beads was play to me, and play, as we all know, rejuvenates the spirit.
I dug around in the sewing supplies left to me by my mother and grandmother for a project. I turned an unused piece of red satin, an old white sheet, and lots of vintage notions into a Red Riding Hood costume for Liv. It was challenging (especially turning a tiny scrap of quilted fabric into a vest) and it was fun.
My daughter and I invited a few arty friends over for a Day of the Dead art party complete with skull painting, Barbie head alterations, finger cookies, and shrunken head punch. Preparations were a blast, the event was even blastier. ((I know “blastier isn’t a word but it should be.)
Many people seem to be great at focusing, but I’m not. I’ve got to sidle up to a task, peek around, and then break in burglar-style. Sometimes that approach works and the marvelous state of flow settles over me. Often it doesn’t and I find myself escaping into more Sideways Procrastination.
Chances are good that right now I’m in the kitchen concocting something fussy for dinner, or outside hauling something around in our old blue wheelbarrow, or curled on the couch reading a book I promised to review. I’m doing this even though I should be at my desk clattering away on the keyboard. What can I say? It’s just what Sideways Procrastinators do.