Procrastination, and the Art of Getting Everything Else Done

By Commenter Jamie Reader on at

The world we live in is fast-paced, hectic and constantly busy, yet many people seem to be both standing still and accomplished at the same time. This makes someone like me seethe with envy at anyone who can wake up in the morning and just do the thing they're setting out to do, and do only that.

Now, I'd class myself as a modern equivalent of a Renaissance man; by profession, I work in both IT and engineering, yet I also teach, design, create, make and occasionally demolish. All this leads to having myriad projects on the go at any one time.

This is both a blessing and a curse for those of you not similarly afflicted. It lends itself to infrequent resting, bad sleep, random ideas at 3am and the consumption of far too much coffee.

The blessings come in the form of being accomplished, driven, and being a useful person to know while also never being short of something to do. The curse, of always having to reprioritise your life the same way you do with your office workload. You shuffle your list based on the person shouting loudest.

As I write this, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm sat in my home office, surrounded by unfinished projects, open computer cases, computer screens, tools and manifold distractions. I actually booked this week off work from my day job so that I could get some work done. Now I'm sure you're already starting to form ideas about me: This is someone who's never finishing a project; one of those people who starts something and never sees it through to the end; flaky; someone you can't rely on... for the most part, you'd be right...if you're me.

All of the projects surrounding me at the moment are selfish projects -- things for my household, to make my life easier. A server to host our extensive media collection to a plethora of devices around the house.

A new coffee table I designed months ago, bought half the parts for, and have yet to build.

A half complete workstation at which I'm currently sitting.

Blacking out the rear windows in my car and fitting some new sensors to test something.

A portable computer repair station which is down in my workshop waiting to be rebuilt after the power supply spectacularly exploded a year ago.

Yet here I am, up to date with everything at my day job; students up to date; commissions all built and being enjoyed by their new owners. So what gives? Why can't I seem to get anything done for myself? Surely if you get them finished, they would actually make your life easier and then you'd have more time to do these things?

The problem is, as it always will be, what do I do once I finish my own projects?

In the past few years, believe it or not, I've actually managed to nudge myself into finishing hundreds of projects with a bit of brain hacking. While trying to get something done, (take building the coffee table) I will sit down at my office desk with a selection of parts beside me, and then will focus on what I've got to do to built that blasted coffee table I've been meaning to build for months. Thinking about the number of 3x2 lengths I need to pick up from the DIY store; which grinder blade I'm going to use to trim down the hardware; whether or not I should bother bashing it up a little before adding the stain...holy crap I've just built a server.

Or the week before, trying to decide which of the spare machines I'm going to use for my media server; which hard drives I've got laying around to put in there; whether to use Plex or XBMC; if I'm going to bother trying to find a new case or just use the one I've just stubbed my toe on. All this, while cutting wires into the wall for the new lighting I'm putting into the stairs in my house.

Or the weeks before that, trying to decide how I was going to wire the new lights I was planning on putting in; trying to figure out if I was going to need to make a new switching system or just use RF sockets and a remote. Figuring out electrical loads and cable length while mindlessly sorting out and cataloguing 4TB of media for the server (something I'd been putting off for months).

The old addage of idle hands giving brightest knives in the apple cart, or something like that...I'm always mixing metaphors. It seems that by really trying to force myself into doing something I've still not finalised the details on, I can get the other stuff done which seems to just occupy time. Now for those of you spotting something familiar in this -- yes, you do it too, look at that room you wanted to tidy before you sat down to check your emails, Facebook and Giz.

We all seem to do it. It looks to just be part of human nature; the art of distractionary procrastination. The only trick here is to delude myself into doing something useful by putting off doing something else useful.

In my week off, with my plans to finish at least some of my projects, I wonder which ones will be left out, cast asside to be nothing more than a tool to see its fellow hair-brained schemes into fruition. Who knows, I may even find something else to add to the endless shuffle pile.

Jamie's a geek, polymath, technomancer, big beardy bloke, builder of nice things, fixer of broken things, designer of complex things.

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