The other big pattern…

The other big pattern lately has been my own pattern of inertia. It goes something like this:

  • Kavi wakes me up at night. Or I don't sleep well for some other reason. Or I just wake up in a cranky mood for no god reason.
  • I move slowly through the morning. I'm slow and inefficient about getting things done -- I manage to clean and dress and feed the baby, but not much else while she's awake. I sit in front of the tv. I look at catalogues for things I don't need. I don't even pick up my crocheting.
  • When she goes down for her nap, I really need to use the time for eating breakfast, putting away dishes. By the time I finish all that, she's waking up again, and I haven't gotten any work done.
  • I'm now in an even worse mood, because I'm frustrated with myself for being such a slacker and wasting part of the day. You would think this would spur me to get work done, but no. Instead, I watch some more tv. Usually ER re-runs.
  • Afternoon nap, repeat.
  • By the time Kevin comes home, I am thorougly sick of myself, and pretty tired of Kavi too, even though she's been a perfectly good baby. I hand her off to him before he even gets his coat off. He's tired from a long day in the office, so is not necessarily thrilled about this, but takes her, because he can see that I'm about to snap.
  • Surely now I'll use Kevin's arrival to get some real work done, maybe at least churn through some backlogged e-mail, or do a cleaning project, or actually, maybe, write? But no. I curl up in my chair and re-read some Miles Vorkosigan. I live vicariously through his accomplishments. Sure, I could save a planet full of people. All I need is some real sleep!
  • We put Kavi to bed, and I have one more hour when I could accomplish something. But I now feel like I've wasted an entire day, so I either sullenly read some more, or, if this pattern has gone on for a few days, I have a meltdown and bawl all over Kevin. Poor Kevin pats my back and tells me it will get better. I tell him I'm not mad at him, or Kavi -- I'm mad at myself for being such a lazy weak-willed procrastinating slacker. He pats my back some more. Eventually, I realize this is cutting into my sleep time and I send him away and try to get to sleep. Maybe tomorrow will be bettter.
It's this awful vicious cycle, that can turn what should have been a perfectly good day into a truly miserable one. And it's not that there's anything really wrong to begin with -- sure, I woke up a little tired, but if I'd just done a little work early on despite that, I'd have been happy all through the day (and probably gotten a lot more done, but happy regardless). But somehow, those first few hours set the tone for the day, and the longer I go without accomplishing anything beyond the basic necessities for me and Kavi, the more frustrated with myself I get, and the more the inertia seems to just pile on, making it actually harder and harder to work. It's a terrible habit of mind, and what I need to do is figure out how to head it off at the pass, early on. I'm not sure I know how, though...

This isn't just a baby thing either, by the way -- I've done this for years and years, probably since college. The evil procrastination pattern, that ends up making you sick of yourself. But it's true that since we had Kavi, there's a feeling that I have less time that I can afford to waste, so the frustrated feelings seem to come on a lot faster.

Any advice would be appreciated. Or you could just tell me that you do this too...

6 thoughts on “The other big pattern…”

  1. Yes, indeed! I do this, too. It is a little bit reassuring to me that you do as well, since I have long stood in awe of how much you accomplish, based upon what you write here.

  2. I have no useful advice, sadly, but yeah, I do this too.

    …Okay, I don’t have advice per se, but I do have some brainstorming thoughts:

    For some people, a reward system works. “If I write 500 words of fiction, I’ll reward myself with a Miles Vorkosigan book.” Or whatever. That doesn’t tend to work for me, and I suspect it isn’t the kind of impetus you need when you’re in that inertia space, but it might be worth trying.

    For some people, acceptance of downtime works. “It’s clear that I’m not going to get anything useful done today, so I’m just going to write off the day, even knowing that there’s stuff I ought to be doing. I declare today to be a day of relaxation and downtime; I have no responsibilities beyond [taking care of baby or whatever]; I have no expectations of getting [writing or whatever] done.” That sometimes “works” for me, in that it leaves me feeling okay about the day, but it doesn’t help with actually getting stuff done.

    It’s possible that one could jar oneself out of this inertia by doing something unrelated. Kind of like tacking while sailing. Your goal is to get to point A, but you’re sailing against the wind of inertia (to badly mix metaphors), and you can’t seem to get yourself to go straight towards A. So what if you aim for B (get up, take Kavi for a walk, walk on the treadmill, do something that’s not what you wanted to get done but that’s also not slacking), as a way to break out of the inertia and break the unhappy-with-yourself spiral? I guess this is related to things like cleaning as a procrastination technique–the traditional procrastinators’ approach of being very productive on everything other than the main thing you’re trying to get done.

    …Anyway, mostly this was meant to be a comment saying I sympathize, and I do this too, and it sounds frustrating and no fun. 🙁

  3. Youre twisting my arm here :). Yes, I do it too. And you *are* *very* accomplished. Far more accomplished than I am–so I have it worse :/

    That said, having a baby has made it more difficult for me to procrastinate. I no longer have the luxury of thinking that Ill get to writing later in the day. I know that if I dont write during the three hours that we can afford to hire a nanny, the day WILL be a washout. So I try to be really disciplined–no websurfing/ writing blog entires, poetry/ reading/cooking/cleaning/telephone calls/running errands etc. JUST writing. Its slower than when Im feeling inspired but its something as opposed to nothing at all. And Im glad our nanny comes every day because dissertation writing is suddenly a daily treat:) and Im glad shes expensive because it guilts me into not wasting a single minute that shes there.

    I know I cant play with baby all day (I didnt even try) instead, I do my stuff in some comically exaggerated way to entertain her. So if Im doing yoga–I make like the instructor, if Im cookingIm hosting a cooking show, if Im putting away clothes, Ill let her slobber on an item here and there. And she loves when we water the plants. Knowing that shes a social kid whod probably enjoy daycare makes me feel less guilty about yearning for the day when shell be ready for it. And she doesnt know that sometimes while Im singing to or wrestling with her, Im writing things in my head. Hang in there

  4. I do this much more than I care to admit. When you figure out how to stop yourself from the spiral, let me know what the solution is.

  5. I think you are underestimating the effect of being tired. I find that it radically increases my already existing tendency towards procrastination. When I get in that mode (often in the evening when I get home from work) I use what I call the three thing method. I continue doing whatever procrastination /avoidance activity I am doing (usually watching TV or reading) and at preset intervals I must get up and do three things. It doesn’t matter how big or small they are but I must do three things. For example – I want to clean the kitchen but I am brain dead and REALLY just want to watch TV. I’ll watch TV and on the commercials, I pause and get up and put three things away (corollary no new mess is allowed during this process) over the course of the evening I get a lot done but I feel like I just sat around and rested. If I have slightly more energy I will use the 10 minute rule. Same principle but instead of 3 things I work for 10 minutes on the goal project (cleaning the kitchen, sorting papers, grading papers whatever). If I am genuinely tired, I still get through stuff. If I am just disgruntled, often as I start to see progress I get more energy and increase my productivity.

  6. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Andrea, that sounds like it might actually work — I think I’ll try it next time I get in that state!

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone…

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