How to Conquer Procrastination

I began my recovery from procrastination in 2011. The book that set me on the right path was The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Dr. Neil Fiore. Before I identified this as a serious issue, I would leave writing until the last minute because I believed that the pressure helped me produce my best and most brilliant work. Instead of working steadily, I would watch TV or play online board games (I got really good at Knights and Cities of Catan in grad school), but I didn't enjoy any of this leisure time. I felt incredible guilt when I wasn't writing or studying, which was most of the time.

At that time, my default setting was stressed out. In my mind I was lazy, but I didn't know how to move past the anxiety, pain, despair I felt in the lead up to getting the writing done. There was also the sick need to leave room to explain away failure: oh well, it's okay, I left it until the last minute so of course things did not turn out well.

The Now Habit freed me from all of this. Lifehacker has a great overview of the book:

Instead of treating procrastination like a lazy man's disease that can be cured by a stiff shot of Puritan Work Ethic, Fiore redefined procrastination and the subsequent treatment:
Procrastination is a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision.

One of Fiore's suggestions to is do an Unschedule and block out rest and relaxation time and other commitments. Yes, you put in the time for play like a champion, then you only put writing on the schedule after you've done it. I had a spreadsheet where I recorded every minute of my day when I was recovering. Since I have OCD tendencies I felt very pleased with this routine. It made my sick brain so happy. 

Later I bought Fiore's hypnosis series Productivity Engineering and woke up on day twenty-one of the program feeling happier than I had in years. 

I can now watch Riverdale without feeling any guilt. It's on my mental Unschedule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Webinar on How to Keep Your Writing Life Alive

So I had either food poisoning or an allergy attack that led to 4.5 hours of vomiting on the weekend, so I'm delaying on my post on wrist care for another week. Apologies!

In the meantime, please sign up for Rachel Thompson's webinar! She's hosting me and we'll be talking about not giving up on writing. It's on Thursday, April 13 at noon EST. If you sign up, you'll have access to the recording, so you'll be able to watch it later if you can't do it live.

Try this Writing Trick to Get You Through Toxic Times

I've been reading The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh. If you're feeling anxiety right now due to current events and the resulting in-person and online abuse, you need this book. It will help you create the space you need to deal with the toxic bullshit that's flowing so freely from the mouths of people who are supposed to be leaders.

This opening paragraphs are all kinds of yes:

"Nothing can survive without food. Everything we consume acts either to heal us or to poison us. We tend to think of nourishment only as what we take in through our mouths, but what we consume with our eyes, our ears, our noses, our tongues, and our bodies is also food. The conversations going on around us, and those we participate in, are also food. Are we consuming and creating the kind of food that is healthy for us and helps us grow?
"When we say something that nourishes us and uplifts the people around us, we are feeding love and compassion. When we speak and act in a way that causes tension and anger, we are nourishing violence and suffering.
"We often ingest toxic communication from those around us and from what we watch and read. Are we ingesting things that grow our understanding and compassion? If so, that's good food. Often, we ingest communication that makes us feel bad or insecure about ourselves or judgmental and superior to others. We can think about our communication in terms of nourishment and consumption. The Internet is an item of consumption, full of nutrients that are both healing and toxic. It's so easy to ingest a lot in just a few minutes online. This doesn't mean you shouldn't use the Internet, but you should be conscious of what you are reading and watching."

Hanh then goes on to offer this:

"When you write an e-mail or a letter that is full of understanding and compassion, you are nourishing yourself during the time you write that letter. Even if it's just a short note, everything you're writing down can nourish you and the person to whom are you writing."

Last week I declared 2017 the year of friendship. A while back, I mentioned that we can take a moment to tell the people we love that we appreciate them. So this week, if you're feeling down, write an e-mail or letter to someone that comes from a place of understanding and compassion. You don't need to send it if you don't want to. It's a way to heal and also to jump start your writing practice. If you want to really dig deep, pick someone with whom you disagree and address this note to them. You may find it freeing to send kindness out to this person. I swear it's better than watching remix videos of that Nazi getting punched set to "In the Air Tonight".

 

On Being Needed

After reading my post last week on loving kindness, a friend sent me a New York Times article by the Dalai Lama and Arthur C. Brooks: "Behind Our Anxiety, the Fear of Being Unneeded":

"In one shocking experiment, researchers found that senior citizens who didn’t feel useful to others were nearly three times as likely to die prematurely as those who did feel useful.
This speaks to a broader human truth: We all need to be needed. "

What I get from this is two things: first, we need to have a purpose to ease our anxiety and feel that life has meaning. Second, we must be a part of a community. You can't be needed unless there's someone else there to need you.

Over the past five weeks, I've thought a lot about being needed. I don't work in an emergency room. I'm not an elementary or high school teacher. I'm not qualified to save small children from fires or even a wading pool. So then, what purpose does my work serve in society? How can my labour serve other people? Am I needed?

"Being 'needed' does not entail selfish pride or unhealthy attachment to the worldly esteem of others. Rather, it consists of a natural human hunger to serve our fellow men and women. As the 13th-century Buddhist sages taught, 'If one lights a fire for others, it will also brighten one’s own way."

At my day job as an editor, I like to think I'm serving people by making text accessible to a wide audience. Every time I check a fact or untangle a difficult sentence I feel useful. Sometimes I imagine that I'm opening a door for a child to walk through to discover they love art.

As a writer, the thing I most want to do is write books that light fires for others, so that I can experience a hot blaze in my life. I'd like all the things that brightening through service entails: happiness and the ability to see beyond myself.

The next time you're facing writer's block or the fear of doing something important, perhaps ask yourself how taking action can light a fire for someone else. You're on the verge of writing the book that someone else needs to read so they can laugh or cry. This purpose might lessen the anxiety, bring you joy, or give you the resolve to keep going. If we think this way, about the light we bring to others by being present, then we're not alone at a computer, staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page. Perhaps this is how we can get out of our own way, be well, and author the story that world needs.

A Hack to Manage Your Energy: the #raddesklunch

One of the things that depresses me most is when people say that they're "never not working". From experience, I know that a workplace is toxic when people skip lunch, stay late, and work on weekends. This round the clock productivity is a sick capitalist badge of honour, a red flag of fuck no. 

Somehow, this mentality has spread to our creative endeavours. We fall into the trap of measuring our dedication by the number of hours we sit in front of a computer and we punish ourselves if the sentences don't flow or we don't hit a high word count. This kind of behaviour doesn't get results and makes the work seem like drudgery. Let's be real: there is no reason to suffer while writing. It's not like we're on our hands and knees scrubbing floors for ten hours a day. 

The key question I've been asking myself is: how can I put in the work and get the writing done without putting in extra inefficient hours? 

A few months ago one of my awesome colleagues at my day job mentioned the concept of managing energy rather than time:

"The core problem with working longer hours is that time is a finite resource. Energy is a different story. Defined in physics as the capacity to work, energy comes from four main wellsprings in human beings: the body, emotions, mind, and spirit. In each, energy can be systematically expanded and regularly renewed by establishing specific rituals—behaviors that are intentionally practiced and precisely scheduled, with the goal of making them unconscious and automatic as quickly as possible." 

This can be accomplished without spending money--it's about establishing a system that fosters good habits. 

I came across one way of renewing my energy during the work week: I pack a #raddesklunch. (Check out my Instagram, where I document some of my more successful homemade lunches.) The #raddesklunch is different from a Sad Desk Lunch, which I imagine is eaten very quickly, alone, and out of a plastic container.

My Tips for a Successful #raddesklunch

1. Use real cutlery: I keep a fork, spoon, and a pair of chopsticks at work.

2. Invest in good dinnerware for the office (I know, this requires spending money, but you'll be using it hundreds of time over the course of a year): I have a giant porcelain bowl from Muji that works for every meal.

3. Make lunch dates: Before I discovered that I had a number of food allergies, I went out to eat with colleagues nearly every single day. When I could no longer go out, I started a Slack channel, #raddesklunch, to gather people who had brought their lunches or were getting takeout.

4. Go for variety: Don't eat the same sandwich or leftover pasta every day. This Buzzfeed post about mason jar salads is an excellent place to start. I challenge myself to come up with variations on a simple salad with brown rice. (I'm also a fan of quantity. I need to eat a large amount of food midday or I get really hungry an hour later. Your food needs might be different so take a moment to figure out what your body really wants.)

5. Cook most of your lunches over the weekend and freeze them, so you don't have to do this every morning or night.

Here's one of my lunches broken down into three phases.

This is a simple salad with arame sea vegetable, carrots, cucumbers, and romaine lettuce with a lime juice, sea salt, and sesame oil dressing. I pack nuts in a separate container to keep them crunchy until lunchtime.

This is a simple salad with arame sea vegetable, carrots, cucumbers, and romaine lettuce with a lime juice, sea salt, and sesame oil dressing. I pack nuts in a separate container to keep them crunchy until lunchtime.

When the time comes, I tip the entire container over into my bowl. The dressing gets evenly distributed.

When the time comes, I tip the entire container over into my bowl. The dressing gets evenly distributed.

Then I top with pecans, round up colleagues so I'm not eating alone, and dig in.

Then I top with pecans, round up colleagues so I'm not eating alone, and dig in.

Now after lunch I have the energy to work hard and stay focussed until it's time to go home. On the weekend, I make sure the meal I have at midday comes at a time I need a break from another activity, like writing or cleaning or errands.

Let's Talk About Exhaustion

A friend posted on Facebook: “Anyone else completely useless on weekends? I know I’ve never really had a proper 9–5 job before but it’s like both my body and mind go into standby mode on Fridays at midnight.”

I feel this so much. I want to write during the weekends, but instead I find myself binge watching TV shows like The Night Of and drinking tall glasses of stevia lemonade to stave off dehydration. Most of my energy goes to laundry (I pretty much have to boil my sheets weekly to lower the chances of an allergy attack) and making large meals to freeze so that I don’t have to cook if I’m ready to pass out at the end of the workday. Being an adult sometimes feels like a long trudge through a blizzard to somewhere I don’t want to be.

A few years ago, when I went to therapy for the first time, I realised that the way I talked to myself contributed to my exhaustion and my aversion to writing. No matter what I did, I never stopped to acknowledge that I was doing a good job of living life. All I saw was the pile of clean clothes I hadn’t had time to put away or the unopened mail or the books I’d bought but hadn’t yet had a chance to read. At work I’d sit at the computer until my forearms burned and my eyes were blurry. Nothing left in reserve. My sense of achievement came from feeling productive and my definition of productivity was shaped by outdated industrial revolution ideas about a set workday and output.

But like any perfectionist, I was all or nothing. Whenever I hit the wall, I had no motivation and I usually caught a cold or developed some kind of debilitating pain that hampered my ability to work until I’d have to quit and cobble together freelance projects until I’d rested long enough to give the office another shot. At most of these jobs where I burned out, if my boss had just stopped to tell me I was doing a good job or that my work was appreciated, I could have lasted longer because who doesn’t feel buoyed up by gratitude?

I was going to have to change if I wanted to be healthy and happy, but the way wellness is sometimes packaged freaked me out, like it was solely the domain of entitled lithe women with trust funds, investment banker husbands, and Instagram accounts where the natural lighting always seems to come from the north. But the thing I’ve discovered the hard way is that you have to take care of yourself before you can contribute in any meaningful way to society. Otherwise you’re just a selfless burden who doesn't understand how to set boundaries. Better to be selfish in the right ways at the right times. This Laurie Penny essay covers all these questions regarding self care: 


The ideology of wellbeing may be exploitative, and the tendency of the left to fetishize despair is understandable, but it is not acceptable—and if we waste energy hating ourselves, nothing’s ever going to change. If hope is too hard to manage, the least we can do is take basic care of ourselves. On my greyest days, I remind myself of the words of the poet and activist Audre Lorde, who knew a thing or two about survival in an inhuman world, and wrote that self care "is not self-indulgence—it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

So what’s the writing take away? In order to love the process again, I started setting a timer for thirty minutes, which I’ve since reduced to twenty-five minutes to follow the Pomodoro technique. During the session, I would do nothing but write. No e-mail, no reading, just writing. At the end of a thirty-minute block, I’d applaud. Yes, I sat in my apartment, alone, madly clapping for myself. I don’t need to do this anymore, but at the time it pulled me out of a spiral and gave me exactly what I needed to complete my short story collection. So go ahead and try it. Be the cheerleader that you need in your life.

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The environment plays a huge role in our well being, so for readers in Canada, I urge you to consider writing a letter of protest against the Kinder Morgan pipeline and oil tanker proposal before September 30. (Click here for a simple form that will direct your letters to the right place.) Don’t let the fact that Justin Trudeau is pretty and awesome at PR lull you into complacency. Just because he surfs, attends pride parades, and is all-around dreamy doesn’t mean he’ll put our First Nations communities or concerned families first without us putting up a fight. In many ways, a politician of this calibre is much more dangerous than someone who is simply odious, so we have to make ourselves heard. We become well by advocating for ourselves and for our communities and this is an opportunity for us to author our fates together.

I've Reached Peak Earnest and I Like It

After reading my last post, a friend told me she's been going through similar stuff, minus the shitting blood. Even though we hadn't talked for more than a year, we went deep into our lives and into the political and cultural conditions that contribute to our discomfort in the world. (Even when we speak of suffering, we're nerds. We can't help it.) She also wants to get back to doing the writing that matters to her.

I asked her if she wants to do monthly check-ins where we set goals and cheer each other on like we're Simone Biles in pursuit of five gold medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. She's going give alcohol the kiss off. Mine is to update this blog each week. (Which is going to be harder, saying no to booze or writing on schedule?) Next Monday, inspired by our conversation, I will post an essay called "I Quit Drinking and the World Didn't End". How do I know this? I haven't had a drink since December 15, 2015 and this didn't trigger a zombie apocalypse or all the bees in the world to drop dead at once, even though there are people who act like I've killed a baby tiger when I say no to a glass of wine.

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One of the rituals I've implemented is an adaptation of Julia Cameron's Morning Pages. I write without getting judgy until my hand gets tired, then I get grateful and make a list of awesome things in my life. I know, I've hit peak earnest. Past-me would snicker about this while having a third bourbon.

I do this as a warm up before writing, as well as if I'm feeling low and need to exorcise my pernicious thoughts. There's only one rule: I never read over what I've written. When I am done, I shred the paper and and let go. This lack of attachment is freeing, like returning home and immediately going braless before flopping face down on the couch. It just feels so good.