Procrastinatus and Shouldering the Boulder

September 23rd, 2008

As summer came to a close this past weekend I found myself catching up on “things to do.”   Sometimes that list of things we want to accomplish is so overwhelming.  But I had to laugh the other day while musing about all the things I hope to do before winter this year.

We were fortunate this summer that the electric utility company has been trimming trees in the area.  Several ice storms over the past few years have knocked out electricity for days at a time in the cold of winter, and trimming the trees back helps protect the electric power lines from damange.  I’ve been watching and trimming a few of our trees where I could, but they were too high and overgrown for me to reach.  Last year some ice laden branches even bowed down our electric lines but fortunately didn’t break them.

One day last week I saw the tree trimmers along the highway down the road, and walked through the woods to talk with them.  We talked about their work and I asked if they could come on the property to trim the electric lines closer to the house, but they didn’t know if or when they would be back.  I planned to call the company and follow up, but lo and behold the next morning they were there! I walked out to see the large trucks and equipment, and one guy high up in a bucket trimming our trees.  Near the driveway there was a familiar message.

Lots of work to do in the country!

They left the sign near the trees overnight and came back the next day to finish up.  As I looked around the landscape that afternoon, I laughed at how appropriate the message was.  It was a stark, bright reminder of how I place myself too often in the mental state of “getting things done” instead of “appreciating what is.”  And in that mental state, either the process becomes too cumbersome, or I go from one job to another seemingly getting much accomplished, but instead spinning the proverbial wheels of my lawn tractor throughout the day.

Other times I’ll walk the property and everywhere I see “Work Area Ahead.”   I look at the weeds, the grass or fallen branches, motors needing repair and see “Here’s Work Too.”  I head inside for something to eat, look out the window and think “More Work Ahead.”  And I wonder if I’ll ever get it all finished.

But what am I trying to finish really?  Why am I in such a hurry?  What is it about the things I plan to do that may keep me from enjoying the beauty of the day or taking my time with something?   All questions I ask myself during either the more lucid, or more exasperated moments.

It must be the same for others whether at the office, business or home.  Maybe it’s our nature, and we have that intrinsic desire to get our work finished, and to achieve things professionally and personally.  Certainly it can be a good thing too, harnessing energy and motivation while seeking achievement and growth.

But if we aren’t careful we find ourselves thinking too much of our “Work” and it becomes an unconscious burden we carry around.  Ultimately, instead of harnessing a more productive energy, we look for subtle ways to avoid thinking about it, and find ourselves immersed in other things to do that are not quite so productive. My old friend Procrastinatus comes to mind.

I’ve often wondered about the human tendency to procrastinate, and perhaps I’m struggling to express some relationship between doing the work we must, procrastination and enjoying life along the way.  But I couldn’t examine the issue any more beautifully than Dr. Stephen Diamond has done recently in Existential and Mythological Perspectives on Procrastination.

“Another existential aspect of procrastination is what I call the Sisyphus syndrome. As punishment by the gods, Sisyphus, if you recall your Greek mythology, was fated to eternally roll a huge rock up a hill each day, only to have it roll back down just as he neared the top.”

“We all share a similar existential fate. We are each required to roll our metaphorical rock–whatever that may be–uphill every day, only to do it all over again tomorrow. It is arduous, difficult, tedious and laborious work.”

“This tedious aspect of life is something many people try to avoid via procrastination. We refuse to accept the difficult, dirty, tedious tasks in life, distracting ourselves instead with more amusing activities so as to avoid them. We avoid shouldering the boulder. But it should be remembered that for existential philosopher Albert Camus, Sisyphus found meaning and even contentment in accepting his fate. As must we all. As Friedrich Nietzsche put it: amor fati. Love your fate.”

I’m not sure about the fate part… and believe we can turn to God for reassurance of our ability to move forward.  But the article explores other aspects of procrastination and our daily life.  The author emphasizes living in the present, and that procrastination is an avoidance of the same.  And he speaks of passionately embracing what we do today.  In whatever way that I rationalize the things I need to do, or the priorities of the day, I know that unfortunately we can often find more exciting things to do rather than the mundane, repetitive tasks that really need done.

Eventually we come back to those things we need to do.  Finally we start in on something, and before we know it we’re musing along immersed in our work, doing more than we expected and perhaps less than we wanted.  But that’s okay, at least we’re living in that moment.  Getting lost in our work can be a good thing, especially if it’s something we enjoy.

When I find myself too consumed with things that “need done,” I look for a way to step back, or into that place of appreciation. I remember how I enjoy things more when the work is finished, with even completion as a short-term goal.  I hope that whatever work I do, I don’t lose the joy and beauty of the moment because of the seeming enormity of it all.

I’ll probably remember that orange sign for a while.  And in so many ways, I’m thankful to be able to work at all.

3 Responses to “Procrastinatus and Shouldering the Boulder”

  1. I try to keep focused on one task because if I get sidetracked, it is always harder to go back to it. Sometimes I just have to say there aren’t enough hours in the day, or motivation in me, to get everything done that I would like too. It is amazing how used to things one can get with some practice.

  2. What a breath of fresh air – the notion that being present in the moment can lead to a better life, and less procrastination. Here’s my take on the subject:

    Not all procrastination (or productivity, for that matter) is created equal.

    It can sometimes be good to procrastinate – it can lead to less struggle, delay (counter-intuitive, but true), and more optimal functioning. Presence of mind leads you to appopriate action. Productive procrastination entails being mindfully present, destructive procrastination almost always involves avoidance of the present moment.

    There’s a new book out titled Productive Procrastination, and it describes how to do it, how to tell productive from destructive procrastination, and how to end the destruction kind. (Yes, it’s available on Amazon.com.) Learn more about the concept of Procrastivity at http://www.Procrastivity.com. Wishing you optimal procrastivity!

  3. Hi Kerul- Great point- I like how you speak of productive procrastination as a stimulus to more optimal functioning, being mindfully present, and understanding the differences. Interesting view- I’ll have to read more! Thanks for stopping by-

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