Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Funny Thing about Procrastination

Thursday morning, I started working on a little project that has been sitting unfinished on my desk at home for FOUR YEARS!!!!

The wee task is culling and properly storing the photos I took in the many years when I was doing a lot of travel writing. They have been sitting in little yellow boxes and ancient plastic slide sheets in a blue steamer trunk. The trunk was full. Thousands of pictures of places I've been: Jerusalem, Krakov, Quito, Kerala, Chapel Hill...

In the late fall of 2006, I realized that, if I wanted to keep any of them, they would have to be put in archival plastic sheets, not the kind that stick to the emulsion.

And so I began.

You might think that this would be a very pleasant project, and it is, but just too large, and such an interruption of my precious reading-and-crossword-puzzles leisure time. Also there's the enormous number of slides, all reminding me of a moment, and each one requiring a decision: keep or toss. Toss? Keep.

So I allowed myself to be distracted by a teaching assignment. Now, almost exactly four years later, I'm back to the slides again, and determined to finish. I'm only a couple of inches from the bottom of the trunk.

What I discovered was that I could have finished what was left of this project in one weekend, and done it long ago.

I can probably wrap it up now in three or four nostalgic hours. The feeling of actually getting close to the end is wonderful.

This phenomenon was well-described in a recent Daily Om message. Here's how it begins:

"Most of us have had the experience of tackling some dreaded task only to come out the other side feeling invigorated, filled with a new sense of confidence and strength. The funny thing is, most of the time when we do them, we come out on the other side changed and often wondering what we were so worried about or why it took us so long. We may even begin to look for other tasks we’ve been avoiding so that we can feel that same heady mix of excitement and completion."

I can't say that I'm currently hunting other stale mega-projects to tackle, but maybe when the last slide goes to its permanent home. Then I'll see the amount of space in the room and exult. I wouldn't be at all surprised.

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kenju said...

I needed that. I have started numerous times to sort and thin out my photos of family (mostly) as well as vacation and travel pix. Each time, I give up before it is finished and the chore will have to be completely re-done because I was not good about keeping them sorted. Come January, this is my goal!!

Debra W said...

I am not sure what it is that cause some tasks to feel so daunting and yet when we finally get to them, we feel accomplished relief. Good for you for tackling one of those tasks!

I have been cocooning, lately. Maybe it's the fall. Maybe it's raising daughters. Maybe it's just time. But I intend to come back out again now!


billie said...

We just finished cleaning out our garage and two storage rooms - I think the accumulation of stuff and the disorganization has gone on for about 4 years. It took us about a month to get through it - one motivator was that the vehicles who are supposed to live in the garage were displaced outside, and so coming home in the rain and having to run in, bringing in groceries, remembering to get horse feed out of the back of the truck so it doesn't get rained on, etc. were daily reminders that we needed to keep working on it.

Now that it's done, I feel protective of its new bareness and organization. Before it was easy to just shove another box into the mess of stuff - now I will not be able to do that so easily.

I sold a bunch of stuff, donated even more, and created a few useful spaces that weren't there before. I have taken the time more than once to walk through the space and enjoy how clean and organized it is.

And sometimes, getting one thing to that state of being prompts more of the same in other parts of the house/barn. Yesterday I put on NPR and cleaned out the tack room - which I do a few times a year, so it wasn't an ordeal, but it was truly nice to know that in that space, I was maintaining, not excavating!

I have a briefcase full of negatives that some day I will work on organizing. They are in protective sleeves but there is zero labeling. Many of them are black and white, and I really would like to do my own prints and put them in portfolios so I can enjoy them.

Do you think we all need at least one huge project like this to keep us honest? I'm not sure why, but I think we probably do. :)

Peggy Payne said...

I've had the same experience, Kenju, of having to start over. And knowing that was ahead slowed me down even more. I WILL get back to it and finish it this weekend.

Congratulations on your garage, Billie. Do post a picture. The pleasure of touring a newly cleaned out space is huge.

I think staying organized is like meditation: it's a constant process of drifting and refocusing.

At least I imagine that's what it's like.

I hope you've enjoyed your coccooning, Debbie. And I'm glad you're out and about. I just started reading Franzen's new novel last night; I wanted to stay coccooned with it all night.

billie said...

Peggy, hope you'll offer your take on Franzen when you finish. I was not a fan of The Corrections and wouldn't have bought Freedom except that I happened to hear an interview with him on Fresh Air. Initially I was put off by him, but toward the end of the interview he warmed up and began to talk about writing process and I changed my mind and got the new novel.

I became completely absorbed instantly. I adored it! I actually stopped about 3/4 of the way through b/c I really did NOT want to finish it. I wanted to have that last stretch ahead of me. It's kind of crazy, but it's a tremendous compliment to the book that I am delaying gratification so completely.

Peggy Payne said...

I read Freedom until 1:15, Billie, then forced myself to go to bed. I'm completely enraptured.

billie said...

I'm specifically interested on what it is that is so appealing about this book - I can't actually put my finger on why I am loving it so much, which is unusual for me.

Peggy Payne said...

So far, I'm thinking that there's a fascinating double perspective on the characters: from unusually close in and then from an old-fashioned narrator's perspective.

Debra W said...

Peggy, I just finished Freedom last week, and I ended up loving it. The characters are so rich and their lives are so honest. There was a point in the book that seemed harder to move through than the rest, but it was definitely worth the read! I loved it and I miss it now that it is over. I didn't want it to end. Enjoy the experience!

Did you read Franzen's other book? I am thinking of picking it up.

Oh my, the verification word is "ended". How perfect

billie said...

Peggy, I think that might be it - it's very unusual to get both (isn't it? I'm trying to think of other novels that do this) and wow - what a double whammy in a wonderful way.

Peggy Payne said...

Sounds like we're seeing the same thing. I'm feeling very validated.

Peggy Payne said...

Debbie, I did read The Corrections and I thought it was splendid.

Ended? And it's so rare that it's even a whole word.

Debra W said...

Interesting. Billie, I just noticed that you said you read The Corrections and that you did not like it, yet Peggy really enjoyed it. I believe that certain books speak to us for different reasons. I have had experiences in which I have picked up a book, only to put it down because I am not in the right mood. Then, if I go back to it later(oftentimes, much later), it takes on a different tone and I end up enjoying it. I will pick up The Corrections because now I am curious. I really respect both of your opinions.

I loved the different narration perspectives. I especially enjoyed Patty's thoughts on things because it was truly interesting getting inside of her head. I won't say anything else other than maybe when you are finished, Peggy, Billie, you and I could discuss it a bit more. I tried talking to my husband about it, but he hasn't read it. He just politely put up with my observations about the book, but I really wanted to talk about it!


Yes, Peggy, it is always a surprise when a real word comes up in the word verification. Especially one that seems to relate to the comment!

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Peggy Payne said...

Will link when I get my blogroll back in action, which should be soon. India is on the job.