TODO or not TODO

I’m reviewing my next actions: dozens of worthy projects waiting for me to do. But I just can’t seem to get moving on any of them. What’s keeping me back? What is so hard about getting things done? Especially with respect to the more rewarding tasks on the list, it’s a mystery that I fail to act. It should be easy.

I’ve fretted over this problem for years, yet I’m no closer to an answer today at age forty than when I first discovered my dubious skills many moons ago as a procrastinator extraordinare. Surely all that I need to do is stop worrying and just act—act, and continue to act until to get things done is as natural as breathing.

Oh, so simple! So easy to say! I fear I am caught in a cycle of anxiety and inaction that defeats me before I even begin. Faced with my list of next actions, I inexplicably feel anxiety about it with something like the force of physical pain. I balk. I seek out some numbing diversion to get relief: anything but whatever’s at the top of my list.

But I know I mustn’t nurse this fear, or it will grow. I will not escape by focusing on how hard it is. So I resolve to nurture hope, to act and not doubt.

TODO: Pick any next action. Do it! Repeat.


4 responses to “TODO or not TODO”

  1. What have I to say but that I understand?

    I respond possibly only because I feel that I might “beat” you in “accomplishing” something. (That competetitve nature may or may not be related.) Or at least, I have procrastinated for fewer years than you. A dubious point of pride, I admit.

    The other, and more important point: I (seem to) feel the same: I’ve many interesting, exciting, useful, progressive, (and all the other good things) projects available to me. Now. And yet I play Wesnoth or drink or do some other thing that is neither exciting nor useful. Bummer.

    Final point: the plan, “Pick any next action. Do it! Repeat” has been there all along, at least for me. But the execution fails. In response, I’ve laid out a table of mundane things that help me to stop avoiding rewarding tasks: do the dishes, go for a walk, etc. It’s easily avoidable, but I find that it helps some days, to have *something* to do, to get me *doing* something. If nothing else, it keeps me from depression at not having accomplished some goal.

    Oh well. No magic bullets. Got any for me?

    Good luck. If nothing else, your confession (if you will) helps my outlook. Good luck, and post more like this,


  2. Indeed, no magic bullets.

    But I do have some small successes, and cling to those, hoping to build on them to scrabble back up out of the holes I repeatedly dig myself into.

    Thanks for the encouragement!


  3. Can you believe that tomorrow I have to teach a seminar on Time Management. Me, of all people! I am the father of the champion procrastinator who started this thread in more than a biological sense. I have 68 years (minus a few at the beginning) of procrastination under my belt.

    Ben, you point to what is for me the most perplexing part of our problem. Why do I procrastinate things that I like to do? David Allen’s “twos?” don’t answer this for me. Typically these next actions are not overwhelming, they are pleasant, I know what I want, and I know how to get it.

    There is something darker underlying this. I must be getting something out of procrastinating, or else I once got something out of it, and I am now habituated. It certainly has all the marks of a classical addiction. Gerald May (in Addiction and Grace) defines addiction as “any compulsive, habitual behavior that limits the freedom of human desire” (cf Romans 7:15). Addictions have five characteristics: 1. Tolerance – needing more and more of the behavior; 2. Withdrawal Symptoms; 3. Self-Deception; 4. Loss of Willpower; 5. Distortion of Attention.

    I am addicted to a pattern of behavior that involves avoiding doing things that I either need or want to do. This avoidance produces a level of anxiety in me that I tell myself I dislike, but perhaps even this psycho-physical symptom is, in some perverse sense, satisfying something in me. Maybe I don’t feel “normal” unless I am procrastinating several things.

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