By Matt Shapiro
Yesterday, I had to write a tremendously difficult email to Josh, editor of this blog, and tell him I made a mistake. Not just any mistake, mind you, but a mistake born out of procrastination, a long-standing foe of mine. You see, my blog posts are supposed to go up on Mondays. The problem with that is Mondays are directly preceded by the weekend. Sarah and I both work full time, so those are the two days in the week when we spend time together as a family with our son. We keep Shabbat, so no blog writing happens between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday. Sunday's out because we're running errands or doing family activities together. Saturday night isn't an option because, honestly, who would work on a Saturday night? Sunday night is a no go, because that's when I'm getting ready for the week; I could write while my son Jonah is napping on Sunday, but if I do that, when's my Sunday nap going to happen?
This past Wednesday night, Dr. Garrett O'Conner gave a lecture about procrastination at Beit T'Shuvah. Even though I already considered myself to be an expert on the topic, he shared a number of insights that stuck with me. He emphasized how procrastinating is a destructive pattern of behavior that's very difficult to break out of, even comparable to an addiction. Like any pattern, it takes concerted effort over time and direct attention in order to be decreased or eliminated; it's not just something that you "stop." The biggest take-away for me was how Dr. O'Conner painted it as a conflict between impulse and responsibility. For example, I know I have to put together a blog entry every week, but actually setting aside the time to put it together takes foresight and discipline, when any number of impulses will arise between that plan and the action. It seems much easier, at least in the short term, to enjoy my weekend and pray I can find a few spare moments on Monday (or even Tuesday) to pull it together. I'm sure it's also no accident that this procrastination was particularly egregious after last week, when I wrote a post I felt particularly good about. If it's true, as Dr. O'Conner posits, that procrastination is born out of fear of negative judgment of my competence, the gremlins telling me my post won't be as good as last week's would be particularly loud, most conveniently silenced by watching another episode of Arrested Development after Shabbat is over.
And so, per doctor's orders, I will not succumb to malignant shame, the experience of shame growing when I hide and feel badly about something I feel I've done wrong, but instead share my motivational shame, seeing what doesn't feel good and using it as a launching pad. I recognize the negative way I feel when I procrastinate, and see that it impacts others, that it's not just about me (sorry, Josh!). I also recognize the real challenges prohodiating (being in favor of today, per DOC, the opposite of procrastination) presents. While writing this blog, I've continued to procrastinate: responding to other emails, reading up on the coming fantasy football season, and even washing dishes. Recognizing the procrastination in and of itself doesn't solve the problem, especially since I know how easily I can come up with "good reasons" (see: first paragraph) to do so. So, here I am, an out of the closet procrastinator. The plan for next week is to set aside at least half an hour Saturday night and Sunday night to avoid scrambling so much on Monday, saving both me and Josh some serious angst on Monday. It might not sound like much, but it's a concrete plan and it's a commitment, and that's a start. As long as nothing else comes up.