Let me start this way.
I LOVE having things to do. I really do.
That said, I’m experiencing something entirely new to me, and I’m not sure what it is.
I”ve recently had these extensive, terrifying to-do lists that completely overwhelm me. The notebooks on my desk literally leave me out of breath. I get anxious, scared, overwhelmed, and terrified. I look at my notebooks and the tasks that are – as always, it seems – not crossed off, and I start to freeze up.
And then, the weirdest thing happens. Once I start freezing up, I do nothing. I LITERALLY DO NOTHING. I stare – I just STARE! – at my notebooks and drawings and screens at work. I feel like a zombie because I look at my screen and click my mouse a worthless ten times each hour, more or less accomplishing nothing. I have been sucked into the vortex of procrastination, and the results are more paralysis and fear.
Procrastination feeds the problem, and I’ve been procrastinating big time.
Here’s the clincher. I’m even working with a great mentor right now – someone fabulous who is giving me lessons in life design and life coaching – and I’m even procrastinating on replying to their emails. Those are marked as “to-respond” in my inbox, and I ignore them. Daily.
(For people interested in this kind of thing, I would highly recommend Jen Gresham, Jenny Blake, or Brett Kunsche as three starting points. These people are fabulous. As a future life-coach-in-training, going through the exercises over the past year – and figuring out what’s working and what’s not working in my life – is phenomenal.) That said, I’m still procrastinating.
My sister, on our holiday trip to visit my Dad’s family in Southern California, remarked how strange it was that I was sleeping in late, staying up late, and not being my usual self.
I wish I could say that I have it all figured out, but I don’t. I’m working on it. I struggle. I fail. It’s a process. Learning new things excites me and it also terrifies me. I struggle to constantly challenge myself to grow, but sometimes, dammit, it’s REALLY. FREAKING. HARD.
(Sorry for swearing!)
I haven’t experienced this paralysis before. What follows after the onset of paralysis is a defiant middle-finger attempt to ignore the pressure of the things I have in front of me. I stay up late, drink copious amounts of coffee, and struggle to get one simple thing done. The addition of facebook and gmail and twitter and blogrolls builds, so that I spend an hour (or two!) each day mind-numbingly consuming information from friends
(and, although I love it all, I must admit that most of it is irrelevant. I don’t care that you’re at the airport, or that you took a pretty picture, or that you have announced to the world that you drank a glass of wine. Sometimes reading facebook is like digging through a pile of garbage to find an engagement ring: I’m thrilled to hear about the engagements and the glories, but the moment is ruined by all of the clutter it’s surrounded by).
But it’s not your fault. It’s my fault.
My tired, sleep-deprived, task-oriented, goal-setting crazy Sarah Peck self has done this, to myself. (Good lord, she’s talking in third person again.)
How can I write this? How am I writing, right now? I don’t know. I don’t understand it, to tell you the truth. The only thing I can do is listen to the voices in my head. And listen to what they tell me to write.
what voices in your head?
(Shut up, you know you’re there.)
… and I am slave to follow their whim and fancy. I listen to them more and more, and lately the voices tell me to stop working, stop busy-ing myself and just tell stories and dammit, get the stories out quicker.
I know that I want to be a writer – a better writer, a fiction writer, a researcher – and sometimes, I feel so deflated by pre-occupying myself with other things during the best parts of the day (hello, mornings, sorry I missed you again – it’s been too long) and by the time I get to the evenings, I’m tired and the voices and stories in my mind have relegated themselves to the virtual couch.
As I sit in front my computer at night, I try to coax them back out and say, please, come out, let’s do some writing! And they slouch sideways and har-umph back at me and whine, why didn’t you play with us when WE wanted to play? We’ve been talking to you all day!
They’re like little goofy gremlins who clamber all over my brain during the day (Oh Sarah, please focus) – and then when I finally, exhaustedly, turn around and shut down my design computer and write out the task list for the next day, they recoil and squeal and laugh and run away from me, devilishly encouraging me to chase them in their whimsical, adventurous play-field that is my writing brain.
So I’m paralyzed and I’m overwhelmed and I have a bit of writer’s block –
You don’t have writer’s block! You’re just too busy doing stupid stuff and chasing someone else’s dream of success.
(Yes, I know, gremlin, I know).
So I did what every smart twenty-something does.
I called my parents.
My mom said that she was insanely proud of me.
And my Dad gave me some good advice.
I love parental wisdom.
My dad’s advice, for any entrepreneur, is that you only need to do 5 things every day to make sure you’ll make it.
- eat well
- be social
- get the work done.
It turns out you can’t do # 5 without the other 4 things. You need sleep, good food, exercise, and interaction with others to really get good work done. For some reason, I’ve been burning the fire without putting the fuel in, and the lack of sleep and good nutrition makes for a poorly-run Sarah machine. This engine needs an overhaul.
Burnout, it turns out, is a condition of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in the things around you. Characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, the people subject to burnout are often slow to realize what’s happening, and may find themselves overwhelmed by stress and workload, and thereby unable to mitigate the problem.
The other piece of advice I got from my Dad was this:
Time is a limited quantity. We can make more money and have more stuff – heck, even make new friends – but we can’t make more time.
So instead of listing everything – list only what’s first. What’s the first, and only thing you want to get done? What’s the first thing you want to get done today, right now, and this week? How do your short term actions play into your long-term goals?
It’s time for some life-editing.
What’s first, for me, is rest.
Rest comes in many forms: more sleep, less work, and less procrastination. Which brings me to:
A digital hiatus.
And so, I bid adieu, for a short hiatus. I am taking a ten-day digital hiatus from social media and email until January 3, 2011.
(To keep myself honest, I actually de-activated my facebook account.)
I need to be making a conscious effort to spend less time on things that don’t matter and more of my time re-fueling the tank. Because I have some great stories and writing itching to get out of me. And I’m not any good to you – or to me – if I can’t write. So I must rest.
I will be responding to emails if and only if they are productive to my current projects. But I need time to think, time to sleep, and time to be. I will be writing, thinking, scheming and dreaming.
The next 10 days are mine. I hope you enjoy yours, too. Feel free not to email or call – and see you next year!
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Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas, everyone. To a great 2011.—
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