November 24th, 2009


Wrong time to reply

Okay, yesterday's poll was full of fail, because it does depend a lot on context. I'm normally the one who can't get more than two questions into a questionnaire without going "ARGH BUT IT DEPENDS" and throwing the whole box of "neither agree nor disagree"s across the room in disgust, so I apologise for giving everybody else the argh this time. I think I was working on the assumption that the hypothetical communications in question were a) personal, or at least something where you personally have an interest (in either sense) in getting a reply, and b) something that obviously invited a reply but didn't specify the time-limit; e.g. if you say "please let me know by the end of the day" then obviously you're kind of expecting a reply by the end of the day, and if you send something that doesn't normally need/expect/invite a reply, then, um, you're not expecting a reply. But I did completely fail to show working.

Not sure what to do now: 48 people have managed to respond despite the fail, so I don't want to make people fill it all in again; but the results are probably a lot more meaningless than I hoped. That'll teach me to try to design surveys when I'm tired and rushing to meet an arbitrary deadline. :-}

This quintessence of just-do-it

I find that, more and more, there are things I know I need to do, and even (in some cases) want to do, but I don't do them, and I have no idea why. I write them on my various to-do lists, on the mini-whiteboard in my office, on the back of my hand... and still I put them off. I transfer them from one day's 'to do today' list to the next's, and the next's, writing them out like a scribe trying to preserve ancient writings they don't even understand, knowing only that they are somehow sacred. But where the scribe might perhaps feel an air of sanctity, I feel only the sensation of guilt settling on my shoulders, around my neck: the holy albatross descending.

Of course, I don't do nothing in preference to the tasks on my list; I do smaller and smaller tasks. If the task I'm procrastinating from is a big one, I'll break it down into little things. If it's a little thing, I'll do the one-liners, the one-action tasks. If it's a one-liner, I'll check my email. If I've run out of email, I'll check something else, running round in an endless circle of refresh-refresh-refresh like a dog still confidently expecting its tail to get closer. Checking email isn't a task; it's like checking that there's still gin in the bottle by drinking some.

The next stage is writing about the procrastination on LiveJournal; from the initial "I can't seem to make myself do it", through the "Tell me off if you see me here", to the inevitable "still not done it". It's Hamlet's disease: words, words, words. Nothing shall come of nothing, and words (not actions) shall come of words; they grow legs, they grow wings. Writing about the procrastination turns into describing the sensations of guilt, describing the procrastinatory tactics, wallowing in the attempt to weave creative writing out of uncreative ennui. It's like trying to knit your way out of a blanket.

But words breed yet more words, they invite the helpful suggestions over the threshold: do 43 Folders, Inbox Zero, Morning Pages, the GI Diet, Tai Chi; set alarm clocks; embrace idleness; uninstall FreeCell; make lists; don't make lists; drink 8 glasses of water a day; don't step on the cracks. The tiny thread of deferral unravels until the entire jumper of forward motion is lying in a tangle of mixed metaphors on the ground. The inch in which we live becomes the minute in which we'll do it, and before we know it we're bounded in a nutshell with bad dreams to boot. You know the sort of dreams: the ones where you're trying to organise a conference but all the people who turn up aren't on the list and their names are in Russian and it's supposed to start at 9am and you're trying to explain why it's running a bit late and then you look at the clock and it's already 11am and you don't know how that happened and you're trying to email the other organiser but she's gone to Birmingham and when you do get in touch with her you find out that the reason she isn't there is that she's turned into an owl and it's already 3pm and ... Look, I know it's not just me. Not even the owl.

In the end, there's only one solution to getting things done, and it's an unpopular solution, an unsexy solution; it's the journey of a single step. You can't sell books about it, you can't even write an iPhone app for it, because the solution is to ACTUALLY DO THE THINGS.