Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Thursday May 15 2008

I just read this piece about procrastination (linked to yesterday by Instapundit), right through, with no shilly-shallying, and now I am blogging about it, seconds later.  Although, only time will tell whether this gets put up on my blog with equal promptitude.  I am sure I am not the only blogger now writing facetiously self-referential silliness on this topic.

Procrastination, I surmise, is a big deal for many bloggers, certainly for me.  For me, it’s a big deal because blogging is my response to my self-image as a procrastinator.  I constantly postpone big or biggish projects.  My big constantly postponed thing at the moment, which I keep meaning to just sit down and bloody well do, is writing a review for Samizdata of this excellent but rather complicated book (the complications being because the story itself is so controversial in its factual details) about a man who got on with stuff so energetically and promptly that he became, for a short while, the ruler of England, no less.  Or, maybe he didn’t quite do that.  Historians don’t seem quite to agree.

Instead of doing such big pieces, I do small ones instead, like this stupid little piece, which never occurred to me to be writing about until about fifteen minutes ago.  My ego thus massaged, the big project only gets postponed all the more.  Writing something becomes a defence against the guilt caused by failing to write what I really want to write, by which I mean “really want to have written”.  And further postpones the big stuff.

Much of my career counselling is passing on tricks for dealing with the vice of procrastination.  One of my regular questions to my victims is, for instance: When your time is entirely your own, what do you do?  Not: What do you wish you did?  What do you actually do? What, in other words, can you do without will power?  What activities do you not procrastinate at?  Avoid being a procrastinator by “deciding” to do those things you don’t naturally postpone, the things that come naturally to you, so naturally that it requires willpower for you to interrupt them, to do such things as eat, sleep, maintain your marriage, etc.  Do the things where you love not only the outcomes, but also the process.

The story of my life, when I think about it, is that when I first saw word processing, in the electronics department of Essex University in the early nineteen seventies, I fell in love with it.  Not with what I could do with it.  With the simple fact of it.  It has been a lifelong romance.  I still love the simple fact of being able to type this stuff, and immediately see it up there in front of me straight away, with mistakes being instantly correctable.  Wow!  Such is my romantic loyalty to word processing that I always word procress blog postings first, and only when they are done do I shovel them into my blogging software.  For many, I surmise, blogging is a release from the drudgery of word processing.  For me, blogging is merely an add-on, the cherry on the cake.  There is further tweaking when it’s in the blog machines (I’m tweaking now), but my basic tool remains word processing.  End of diversion.  Go back to end of previous paragraph, and then proceed forward to the next paragraph.  (A downside of word processing.)

So as I was saying, another trick to battle procrastination, also highly relevant to bloggers, is to accomplish large things by slicing them up into small things, and then doing them a small slice at a time.  Thus, a blogger can write a big piece by writing it a bit at a time, and then link back to it when it is all finished.  Or maybe copy and past all the bits and polish it up, as the final slice of work.  Often it is the size of a task that daunts.  Reducing its size makes it startable.  I read another book a while ago, where the best tip I got from it was to ask, of any project: What is the first small thing that I need to do to get that started?  Never mind finishing it.  What would s