Overcoming Procrastination Part 2


My hair dresser says there are two kinds of people in the world:  those with curly hair who hate it because they can’t manage it, and those with straight hair who hate it because it isn’t curly and cute.

It must be nice to live in a world that simple.  I try not to mention Egypt, Congress or global warming while she is working on me so as not to complicate her life.

The right brain/left brain discussion brings out about the same level of discontent.  Those who are comfortably bilateral, but in a narrow range, envy both the wildly creative types and the sturdy productive engines.

Those who have a world of abstract ideas bubbling up within them at all times envy the boring souls who always get the oil changed in their car on time, file their tax returns on February 3rd and never forget which dry cleaners they left their favorite jacket at.

And the gloriously dependable, problem solving, get-it-done types wish their lives had a little more sparkle than the occasional discreet emoticon they add in an e-mail to their grandkids.

But at the end of the day, the generalities about right and left brain predispositions mask the fact that while we may default to one portion of our brain or the other, we do have two hemispheres and the issue is not so much lack of brain power as it is lack of skill in shifting gears.

So the previous post explored procrastination caused by paralysis in getting started.  It does not need to be this way even if you do default to right brain thought processes.

Shifting gears from right brain, big vision, to left brain, bit-by-bit is relatively easy when you have an understanding partner who can tell you where to start.  They normally don’t have to lay out the whole job.  They just give you the first bit, and you shift gears into your very own left brain, and do the rest of that bit-by-bit stuff.

Suppose, however, that you are extraordinarily deprived of quasi-intelligent life forms in your immediate vicinity. What can you do to shift gears on your own?

I have to shift gears a lot at work, because I am in charge of two wildly different worlds.  One moment, I am the mad scientist happily puttering around my right-brained lab, and then I have to abruptly shift into COO role and look at all the plates spinning on sticks so I can figure out which one needs to be twirled next, by whom.

There is another variation to the theme and that is emotions.  If I am on the phone with one of you fine people and it turns into a very emotional call, either because I am caught up in the pathos of what you are involved in or because I am angry at your outrageous denial of reality, I will get pulled into right brain mode. Although strong emotions are not necessarily in the creative zone, they do, generally, conflict with any bit-by-bit thinking.

So here are some things I do when I see I am in hard right brain mode and need to get to the bit-by-bit software in a hurry.

-Stand up and move around.  The left brain works best when you are upright.  So I will get out of my chair, walk to the back of the warehouse or anywhere else for a couple of minutes.

-Do something with my hands.  You will often find me in the kitchen after a messy phone call.  I will wash the three or four dishes that accumulated in the sink from snack times or dry the lunch dishes that are in the drainer.  Neither is vital, but it is mechanical, something I do with my hands.  Making the rounds of the desks and gathering up security paper to take to the shredder also works.

-Do something that brings quick closure.  The dishes and the shredding have that added value.  When we get something done and celebrate closure, or cross something off a list, it moves us into the left brain.  Sometimes I will go assemble half a dozen albums just to use my hands and be able to count to six and put them on the shelf.

-Do some writing that is all factual — not creative.  I will scan my e-mails to see if there is something from Sally Jones wondering if I am going to be in East Overshoe, Iowa this month.  I can whip off a clean, simple, factual answer:  Not happening, Sally.  In your dreams!  Why would a self-respecting jungle boy want to subject himself to your current deep freeze?

-Synchronize with someone else’s left brain.  Often it is as simple as asking Megan what she is working on.  I ask her where she is in the list of things for the day, and what she will do next.  As she tics off her list of accomplishment, I automatically click into the left brain analysis mode, evaluating her choices and doing the bit-by-bit in my head.  As soon as I find myself doing that for her world, I know I am back in business and can solve my own next task.

-Find something illogical I want to fix.  For me, it is simple.  I click on Fox News on the web and go to the political page.  Almost any article, by any pundit, on any subject, is going to be so full of spin, omissions and flat-out prevarications, that I can feel my left brain analysis come roaring to the front, shredding their presentation and rewriting the whole story around truth and logic.  And I know I am back.

So, to summarize.  I have a left brain capability to do bit-by-bit work and so do you.  We may not be able to build a space shuttle in our head, but we certainly have the ability to break down a wonderful, right brain, big picture into pieces, sequence them and do them.

So step one:  renounce all the curses you spoke over yourself (and the ones other people spoke also) saying that you don’t have the capacity to . . . (fill in the blank.)

Step two: make a concise list of all the things I noted above, but put them in the language of your own world.  In other words, instead of going to Fox News, you might just ask your teenager why he got such a bad grade on his report.  You will get the same level of see-through spin.  You need to make the list, because when you are having initiation paralysis, you won’t be able to remember these things or find the article in the blog.

Step three:  glue the list with Super Glue to something that has not moved in the last five years.  You and I both know that your right-brained propensities make small lists highly prone to disappearing into the morass, the moment you need them.

Step four:  get your favorite comfort food and go relax in your special day dreaming place, secure and content in the fact that you now have a solid gear shift for your transmission, and your left brain skills (WHICH YOU DO HAVE!) will never be as elusive as before.

To be continued.

Copyright February 2011 by Arthur Burk

From the Quarterdeck, in Anaheim

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19 Responses to Overcoming Procrastination Part 2

  1. Hadassah says:

    LOL… “You need to make the list, because when you are having initiation paralysis, you won’t be able to remember these things or find the article in the blog.”… LOL! You know it! So true, so true… haha….

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  2. niki says:

    Very helpful, as always!

    When I was 23, I lived with my Grandma — a very practical, industrious lady. She remarked at my list-making, saying that I should just take the day as it presents itself. (Yeah, right!) Obviously a strategy that worked for her… but not me: my day presents itself as branches of braches of branches. Also, I feel like everything needs to be done NOW or much much later. Innumerable times, I have felt extreme guilt over the fact that things take TIME to do.
    For about 20 years (teens to thirties) I struggled with a foreboding feeling that Ì had no future beyond about 4 years. This also made it extremely difficult to engage in projects, classes, etc. I don`t feel that way nearly as much any more.

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  3. Sonia says:

    Hahahahahahahahahaha! I love that fiery, feisty article Arthur! It was great for a belly laugh. Could I be that honest, funny, helpful and insightful all at once?! Good stuff keep it coming!

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  4. Rosa says:

    You put words to why I catch myself in the middle of something, and find myself getting up and doing something totally unrelated…like…suddenly its URGENT that I go out to get the mail…

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  5. I have found that some of the tools you describe can also help you get unstuck when it is a left-brained answer you are looking for. A lot of the website work I do requires a significant combination of right and left brain activity. There is creativity needed for the layout and graphics. There is left-brained logic and checklists needed to build the CSS and html. You have to break the big picture of “I want it to look like THIS” into all the letters, carets and backslashes that make it happen. And both CSS and html are terribly unforgiving. No right-brained loosey-goosey allowed there! So, I find that when I am really stuck on WHY something won’t work, I get up “to clear the cobwebs” and usually after walking a couple laps around the office, I get an idea.

    So, not only are the tools useful for switching between the two hemispheres, but I have found them also to be useful when you are in left brain mode and stuck, and need a fresh wind to blow across the circuits.

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    • Rosa says:

      Right brained loosey-goosey…I like the descriptive, Megan! Which is exactly why it is not one of my goals to master HTML and CSS….it sounds like torture! 🙂 And makes bee-keeping and heritage chickens look so much more forgiving!

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      • So what are your heritage chickens? Back in the day when I was raising them, Buff Orpingtons were my favorites.

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        • Rosa says:

          My latest are what I call my flock with panache-Appenzellar Sptizhauben,Golden Polish,Blue Silkies,and of course, Buffs, and Araucanas(lovely green eggs,I named them Willa, ‘so litle mars,so little makes’:) ) Rhode Island Reds, Dominique,Australorp.18 total…8 more on the way. I love the fact that I still get to go to the post office to pick up baby chicks..

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          • I had a Golden Polish for awhile. Called her Phyllis Diller for obvious reasons. They sure aren’t very social hens. Didn’t like the blue silkies at all. Some of the rest of yours are new to me.

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          • Bill Welch says:

            We also have Silkies, Araucanas, Jersey Giants, RI Reds, Blue Wynodottes, Silver Laced Wino’s, Golden Pheasants, Lady Amherst Pheasants, Blue Eared Pheasants, & Impian Pheasants. We are trying to downsize!

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            • Rosa says:

              Downsizing is difficult,isnt it? I keep seeing ‘one more’that I would like to have! Someone told me recently they think chickens are just plain dumb(he obviously doesnt have chickens!)…I told him they actually have a personality, and are quite funny and entertaining.

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        • Bill Welch says:

          We have Blue Orpington Hen named “Blue”. She is my favorite. The best of mothers too. Hatches out all the other hens eggs.

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  6. Bill Welch says:

    I guess that what happens when you have a hair dresser. All I have is Joe the Barber. Every time I go there He wants to know if I found the 30 round clips for the M-14 rifle yet, complains about the government, and preaches about the upcoming revolution. My file cabinets need to be organized. Lately we know what it must have been like in trench warfare in WWI. Still slugging it out here in The Great State of Rhode Island. I really enjoy your blog!

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  7. Kate Mazur says:

    Excellent. This is it!

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  8. Rose Boon says:

    Yes, Thank You. This is encouraging. Until reading this I though that when I would get up and go do something like organizing a file drawer or vacuuming the floor interupting my stall over incomplete work was avoidance. Now I see it is a natural shifting into the left brain. Emotional days will find me doing household tasks for example instead of melting down. I have on occasion wondered why I didn’t melt down like others I know. Too funny, beating myself up almost for shifting gears and at the same time for not melting down. My poor spirit…I need to affirm it more, bless more. Thanks—I guess I’ll have to put that on my list. LOL

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  9. Sonja Bennett says:

    I’m feeling pretty good about now. Just recognizing the truth behind my difficulty with “shifting gears” gave me a much needed leg up today when tackling “The List”. When I felt myself begin to slip, instead of sinking into the old deflated mode, I simply kept trying. The end result is that I got a lot more things done today than I thought possible and was even able to finish a few things untouched since Monday. (I even wrote out the list you mentioned in this article!) For me, that is a great way to finish my week and start my weekend. Thanks for the help, Arthur!

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  10. Gail says:

    I’m loving this series. Thank you for all this. It really defuses judgment. I’ve been sending friends here for this, and they have loved it too.

    I do have a vague memory of some story you told on one of your CD’s of a year or so of canoeing, which you said rewired your brain. (So wonderful you didn’t know about the J-stroke.) Is that going to figure into this anywhere?

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  11. Mary says:

    I am loving this! Probably because I struggle with procrastination and switching from ‘big picture’ to ‘fine detail’. Thank you Arthur for giving me permission to laugh (or at least smile) at myself. Looking forrward to how this develops.
    Now, shall I go make that list? Or should I just have a peep at the rest of my emails first…o dear am i procrastinating?

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