To pay proper attention to anything is to inevitably ignore everything else.
My head does not like this fact.
What if I’m missing something?
Did I forget to…
Has such and such responded to so and so?
Sometimes, if I have enough resistance to a certain task, I’ll bounce around it like this for hours, or even days.
75% of the assignments I’ve ever submitted have been submitted within ninety seconds of the due time.
Given that about 20% have been submitted late… That’s not a good statistic.
This infuriates me.
I’ll bounce around the thing I need to do until there are literally seconds to spare; until I have no option but to do the thing, and only the thing, until it’s done.
This is not procrastination. Well, it is, but it’s slightly more complicated.
Procrastination implies a conscious effort has been made to ignore the thing.
But usually, it’s when I’m actively trying to do the thing that I run into the most trouble.
I get tripped up the same psychology behind choice paralysis.
Choice paralysis is when you have the option of twenty-five seemingly identical toothpastes, and it takes much longer to decide which to buy when compared to deciding which bag of flour you need to buy.
It’s why people spend so much time turning over apples in the produce section; there’s too many to choose from.
My experience, and the experience of many others who struggle with attention deficit stuff, is that as soon as I meet a task which doesn’t offer a clear, immediate and rewarding feedback loop, my brain starts inventing toothpaste brands and throwing apples in the air for me to catch and inspect.
The worst part is that I can often feel it doing this.
I can know that I’m about to avoid a task that I actually want to complete.
I can feel my brain inventing the excuse. Logically I know that I don’t need the cup of tea, or that nothing important will have happened in the few minutes since I last checked my phone. But I can’t stop myself.
It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion.
I’m screaming ‘STOP! We need to do this work.’ But my brain runs the red light anyway.
Next thing I know I’m on the couch with a cup of cold tea I didn’t want telling myself that the video documenting the history of Japan will in some way contribute to my essay on negritude poetry due in forty-five minutes.
I then write like a maniac for forty-three minutes, frantically edit the worst mistakes out and submit some sub-par work with seconds to spare.
The solutions I have found to this issue are twofold, and both have to do with stakes;
First, if I tell someone I care about that I’m going to have something done by a certain time, and I know that they’ll check it or know if I don’t, more often than not I’ll do it.
I do not like letting people down. Social stakes work wonders.
This is why I write at cafes and train jiu-jitsu with friends at 6am.
If they’re expecting me to show, I’ll show. But I have never got out of bed at 6am just because I wanted to get some work done for my own sake.
Secondly, if I set deadline pressure before the time things are actually due, I’m far more likely to succeeded.
This can’t be half assed. There needs to be stakes for not completing by the deadline, or I’ll just extent the deadline to the actual deadline and practice the same unwilling procrastination.
For example; assignment is due Wednesday, but if I’m not finished by Monday night I don’t get to eat out with friends on Tuesday night.
This works sometimes, but is less effective than creating accountability through involving other people in my work.
I can still weassel my way out of any self defined deadline. I’m quite good at it.
To pay proper attention to anything, you have to make the thing worth your attention.
If it isn’t by nature, and you’re sure you still have to do it, find a way.
And if you have any better ways of managing this, let me know!