Procrastination and The Fear of The Future

Anxiety

Anxiety

How did I write this post?

This blog is looking more abandoned than last year, to the point where the neighbours might start complaining, and despite what I’ve written before about just getting started and so on I’m still not writing anything.

The main problem is that I look at the list of potential posts, think “I couldn’t do that justice in the time I have tonight, I’d miss something out or get something wrong, or upset someone” and give up.  This is a typical example of a feeling that whatever I do will be wrong, an image of a future in which I fail – this is a big problem for me and one I’m trying to get over.

It happens all day, every day, I’m forever thinking that I’m bound to make a mistake, or someone will say I haven’t done something I have done, or done something I haven’t; I’d upset someone, or someone will think I’m boring or aloof because I won’t be able to think of anything to say;  something I’m waiting for through the post will go missing; something will go wrong etc.  Constant negativity.  It’s exhausting, being constantly anxious about the future.  Anxiety puts you in a dark, cold and lonely place with no obvious way out, I’ve spent far too much time there.

I recently read a Lifehacker article about this very issue which explains how reframing your image of the future to be a positive, successful one is crucial.  Once you envisage things turning out ok you can feel less anxious and as such become less stressed and just let life flow.  This is easier said than done, admittedly and as the article says it’s no cure for an actual anxiety disorder.  This is one of the great resources of the internet, support, even when it is serendipitous like the Lifehacker article, just seeing that how your feeling can be changed, that others have been there, helps.  In a way my state of anxiety had become normalised, I expected to feel that way and reading the piece made me think “no, it’s not the way to live.”  I had been wondering why I felt uneasy, uptight, stressed, afraid to talk to people I didn’t know, and why I couldn’t write posts anymore, I had my answer, well, an answer.

At the end of the day nobody knows what’s going to happen in a minute’s time, or what someone’s going to think, or assume, and anxiously trying to mentally prepare for every bad thing that could happen is just going to make things worse.  The worst things that happen are usually things you don’t see coming, as in the Baz Lurhmann song Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen) “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind.  The kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.”

So trying to keep that in mind perhaps I can then just write a blog post and post it, like this one.

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Too Many Ideas and Missing The Tree

Forest

Forest

I’m struggling again with productivity, I have too many proto-articles and as such when I sit down to write I get struck with something called Workload Paralysis which is basically the inability to begin because there are too many places to start. I also forget what I could write about as my notes app and notebook have too narrow a window to show me my options, I can’t see everything in one glance – I need an overview, a priority schedule – which is something that technology isn’t brilliant at.

As I can’t find space for a full size whiteboard I’ve bought a white clipboard and some fineline whiteboard pens – onto this clipboard I will write one-liners – article titles that is, not quips. This way I’m hoping to be able to get some inspiration without having to scan through pages of paper or lists of notes on a screen.

This is why I’m still a firm believer in the physical and tangible media in concert with technology rather than as a replacement across the board, just sometimes it’s easier to deal with words on paper, they’re often much quicker to access, handle or process. And in my case having the ideas list on a screen doesn’t just mean I can’t see the forest for the trees, I often can’t even see the tree.

Procrastination and Deep Pockets

Stopwatch (image courtesy of Serif)

Stopwatch (image courtesy of Serif)

I had a problem, a big though not what you would call serious or important problem.  It was one that my psyche would not let me sweep under the carpet, or rather, delete.  For literally years I would just skim websites and rather than read articles I’d click “Read Later” – that’s how long ago it was, the Firefox extension (and later Android app) was still called Read It Later rather than it’s more famous current name of Pocket.

I just couldn’t be bothered to read stuff, I just wanted to passively watch TV even though I knew that I enjoyed learning and reading interesting articles.  I’d look at articles I thought would be too long to read, or watch, and I’d just again think “can’t be bothered” and clicked “LATER!”  I often made the mistake of looking at a news article that had links to more, each of which ended in a click on “Add to Pocket”.  So the Pocket became bigger.  Over 1,300 items bigger.

Like tomorrow, later never comes though so you eventually have to either read it all or delete stuff.

It took over a year of Saturday and Sunday mornings to read, watch and if necessary bookmark or log them in Evernote.  At Christmas last year I finally returned to the blank sheet and Pocket was sat there encouraging me to add things to it again.  I have vowed never to get there again – I use Pocket to transfer links from my tablet to the desktop to read or watch on the bigger screen and use it to put aside long articles, or complex ones that I’d want to absorb properly that I’d have more time to read at the weekend but never as a replacement for reading stuff, for procrastination.

As for link-heavy sites, well I either try to be disciplined and either not click on the stuff the site thinks I might be interested in, or I cheat and cover the links up with Windows Task Manager – set to stay in front of other windows.  Another help in this is Firefox’s Reading Mode, as long as you can click it before seeing the other articles.  Due to my earlier effort to reclaim my evening time I now know that I have time to read articles and do anything else I want, I don’t need to procrastinate and tell myself I’ll have to read it later.

It’s just as well I wasn’t buying newspapers between 2012 and 2014 I’d be buried in newsprint by now.

I’m Still Here – Clutter and Creative Block

4888018The last time I posted to the blog was New Year’s Day and no I haven’t been suffering from a hangover that long.  I was actually suffering from a really persistent cold for the first few weeks of the year which also stopped me going out on New Year’s Eve and this left me feeling bunged-up both physically and creatively.

Colds and the like cause my brain to seize up too, it just wants to watch stuff on TV, coming out in sympathy with the rest of my body saying “look, we’re busy getting rid of this infection you were daft enough to inhale, go watch some QI”.  Anything that isn’t particularly taxing, basically.

Since then however the impulse to write has eluded me and thanks to an article by Mikael Cho on Lifehacker I’ve found out why.  It’s something I’ve thought about before but also didn’t get around to writing about – information overload.

This blog should have quite a narrow remit, it’s about how we cope with modern life; how technology affects us in positive and negative ways; behaviours particular to the 21st century and other stuff about life in 2013 2014.    However, instead of thinking about issues to write about I scour blogs and news sites for things that are relevant, or rather I should do, and it shouldn’t take too long to do, an hour a day should be enough time to skim a few blogs and the news, then move on to the WordPress reader and read posts from the blogs I follow.

I don’t though because I procrastinate, and I do that because I’m afraid of having too much information coming at me.  As the Lifehacker article points out this stream of information actually blocks your brain from getting into the creative mood and formulating an article.  This is why I’d sit down and find that I couldn’t think of anything to write.

I should have known this simply by comparing today to the last time I wrote a complete novel.  It was the summer of 2000 – yes, Two Thousand.  I wrote the book in six months, writing on Sunday mornings, and whenever the mood took me.  There was no internet available to me and only five TV channels.  Research for the book took place at the local library where I read travel books on Italy to get a feel for the locations.  The important thing was that it was the only thing I was doing, I could let my brain focus on one subject, one story, I had no other stories arriving by the hour vying for attention, taking my attention away.

Between news reader apps, Facebook, Twitter etc we are confronted with a constant flow of words and pictures that have to be rapidly consumed and forgotten else you end up with a backlog that more resembles a tidal wave.  You then have the choice of either taking a week off work to catch up (why do you think I’m writing this on a Wednesday morning two days after my birthday) or just taking a deep breath and deleting/throwing out everything you haven’t read (remembers big stack of magazines with “read later” articles hidden behind the sofa).

I’d already started to limit what information I’d add to my future articles notes, defining the scope of what I want to write about, bringing me back to the one story in effect, and as the Lifehacker article says this is an important step.

Clutter is both physical and mental, both affect how you live your life, the important thing is not to let it affect you negatively.

[Lifehacker]