The art of procrastination…and making tea

It took me about 5 weeks to get around to writing a new blog post. Not because I didn’t want to, not because I couldn’t be bothered (well, for the most part), and not because I have nothing to say. But because, despite being a professional, self sufficient woman in my early thirties, it seems I cannot make a decision to save my life.

Why couldn’t I make a decision about what to write? It isn’t the only thing I have had on pause indefinitely. Should we stay in our house when the lease runs out, or up-heave our life and try to move into town? Should I commit to a long term but expensive training course, or keep it short, sweet and cheap? Should I do the pro play that’s better for my CV or the am-dram one that will be more fun?  Those are just the heavy weight questions. They flood in, hand in hand, with the inane dailies that grind my schedule to a shuddering halt on a regular basis – what do I wear to work today (rain v blistering cold)? Do I eat what I want or try to be good (scratching that itch v fitting into afore mentioned clothes)? Am I too tired to engage in social activity this evening (still hip thirty something v is that middle age I see creeping over the hill; in comfy shoes and a Volvo)?

The never ending list of mini decisions that normally fly quietly under the radar, seem somehow magnified, leading to countless, vague minutes standing blankly in front of the wardrobe (so many clothes, nothing to wear); internet surfing aimlessly around in circles; or carrying two sandwiches around the supermarket while I try to win the age old battle of head v heart and then sneakily ditch one on a shelf I did not pick it up from, because at that moment the sandwich aisle might as well be in Japan for all the distance between us. I like to organise my decision making, or lack thereof, with a list. In fact, I like to organise almost everything with a list. The trick to a really good list is to have sub-lists within the list, and to add things recently completed so you can tick them off straight away. That way you have a really profound sense of winning at the list. Until you realise you spent more time making the list than doing any of thing things on the list that actually need doing.

When I was a kid, my decision making was swift and definitive. I knew exactly what I wanted and I wanted it now. And yes that did include the Swan Princess Keeper (check), Clarks Magic Steps (check), and a Boglin (check). In fact, I was so definite about what I wanted, I remember one Christmas finally getting the Yamaha keyboard I had been pining after for months and it being tantamount to closing a £10 million merger. So committed to my goal was I, I had spent weeks ‘playing’ a cardboard cut out of a keyboard on which I had drawn the keys in dodgy felt tip. So, my parents finally took pity on me and saved up for my dream gadget. Not once did I change my mind. Not once did I falter on my path to righteous consumerism. And when I got that keyboard I played it religiously and eventually grew up to be a songwriter which paved the way for my future writing career. How great to have made a decision!

So, at what point of my social and biological development did the ability to take definitive action leave me? Maybe around the time I realised I wasn’t enjoying the degree I committed three years of my life to. Or maybe when I ‘decided’ to do the sensible thing and invest my entire life savings in property instead of travelling the world, only to get smacked down by the recession a year later. The first time a decision turns around and bites you in the arse, it’s quite a defining moment. It might be subtle. It might even escape your consciousness, but something in you shifts gear. The next decision you make, you pause – just for a split second. Three or four bad decisions in, that ‘pause’ seems to be growing at an exponential rate, and before you know it you’re tied up in an impenetrable net of “what if”s, “what could have been”s and “I’ll come back to it later”s. I, and I am sure I am not alone in this, have been stung enough by previous decisions that everything now feels as though it carries the cloud of possible future regret. So I wait. I make a pros and cons list. I make a cup of tea. I sleep on it. Then, having decided nothing, I move on to something else and shelve it for a rainy day.

There is a rare moment when I finally do take the plunge and make that gamble. And sometimes it even works out. In fact, there are some things I eventually get around to that have lead me to think – ‘why on Earth didn’t I do this right away?’ For example, the day I woke up and applied to drama school after two years of research and intense procrastinating. That changed my whole life in the space of one A4 letter and a deposit cheque of £25. Or the decision to move to Oxford after months of perusing London rentals, and now I couldn’t feel more at home anywhere.

I suppose that is a fundamental facet of getting older. You realise that there is a certain gravity to each choice you make and that it could set you on a completely new path, but that doesn’t mean that those decisions should be put off forever. And actually, there is always a silver lining, even to the rubbish decisions that you kick yourself for as you fall asleep at night. If I hadn’t done that degree, I wouldn’t have got my job in theatre or marketing. If I’d have gone to drama school earlier, I wouldn’t have met my partner. If we’d have stayed in London…well my life as I know it wouldn’t be my life. So, if something is worth doing, it’s worth taking a risk for. It is okay to weigh up your options and give it serious thought. But then, put down the tea, step away from the wardrobe and DO IT. Just remember to add it to your list when you’re done.

2 thoughts on “The art of procrastination…and making tea

  1. There have been studies which suggest that we have a finite amount of willpower (and therefore decision-making power) each day. It’s why it’s so much more difficult to hit the gym after work (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it). People like Zuckerberg and Jobs always wore/wear the same stuff not because it was their trademark, but because it eliminated more of the small decisions to think about each day.

    I also love lists. (I make lists of lists). It’s the procrastination that irritates me about these small decisions. So I’ve started trying to remember to implement the ‘2 minute’ rule. If something will take me less than 2 minutes (answer an email, do some washing up, tidy that sideboard etc), I’ll try to do it straight away instead of putting it down on my list. It’s /just/ starting to be effective – I just need to remember about it more!

    Another great post, by the way – I’ve just subscribed. 🙂


    1. Thanks Sara- but by doing small things and not putting them on the list, you’re missing the joy of adding and crossing off ten things at once! Great for the mind…not so great for paper and the environment. Maybe I should get a whiteboard.

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