In my last column, we witnessed me enjoying an in-column epiphany about my strengths in terms of scheduling and organizing. In said epiphany, I determined that my strongest and most dedicated exhibition of consistent action toward a goal has been my life-long history of watching TV shows that I like. And I mused about how that highly-cultivated strength, born from steady weekly workouts for the past 30 years or more, could be brought to bear on taking care of the most-procrastinated items on my overall to-do list.
When I tried to determine what the solution might be, the answer was equal parts absurd and obvious: I simply have to turn my major projects into “TV shows”, and become as loyal a viewer of those “shows” as I have been to The Simpsons and 24. (And Cheers, and M*A*S*H, and Psych, and Fringe, and Arrested Development, and about 100 other shows off the top of my head. Yes, literally 100.)
With my TV shows, I know the annual seasons, I know what nights they are on, I know when they’re coming back from a break (and if I don’t know, I go on the web and look it up.) And I pencil in appointments in my head for the Sunday or Thursday or whatever day when my shows start back up. Needless to say, I watch them each week when they come out, as soon as I can. I’m more of an Internet-based TV watcher these days—I’m not a sit-and-channel-surf fan—so I find or get my specific shows when they come out, and I make time to watch them. It might be the next day before I get to it, but not much longer than that.
So first I have to ask myself “Why?” Obviously it’s because I like the shows, and enjoy watching them. (With the possible exception of some of the middle seasons of 24.) But there’s a reason why I gravitate toward those instead of other tasks—tasks which I would also mostly enjoy, if I did them. (And no, it’s not because I’m lazy.) If I can derive what it is about that one love of mine that breaks the procrastination deadlock, then maybe I truly can come up with a cure for all my fellow terminal procrastinators out there. . .
I should warn you, there will be air quotes involved. (No cure is perfect.)
I think a key reason for TV’s durability in my schedule may be because the narrative is easier to follow—the characters and stories, and the heroes and villains, are clearly presented and easy to latch on to. Things usually get wrapped up in a simple episodic package. Plus, unlike my to-do list and my schedule, which is highly malleable and feels out of my control, the TV seasons are immutable and handed down from above…and while that’s also out of my control, it is at least controlled. Barring a pre-emption from a World Series or Oscars ceremony, I know what to expect and when. So it’s easy to get ready. Sunday night, I’m going to be watching the Fox animated comedies (and Dexter, and The Amazing Race). It’s an activity that I know, and that I know I enjoy. And maybe most importantly, I know (and am well-versed in) all the steps involved in “achieving” that task.
So how do I translate that “skill” to my major undone projects? Simple: I take my major projects, and I handle them like a TV network executive planning the fall lineup. I break things down into half-hour shows, hour-long shows, and other formats I’m familiar with. Some of my “shows” will run for a full season of 22 episodes or more, while others will be short-run specials or a limited miniseries. Some will be “on” every weekday, others only once a month or less. It depends on how many “episodes” it’s going to take to carry out all the “story arcs” and “character arcs” necessary to complete the “plot” of whatever it is I aim to do. Some of my goals can be accomplished in one short season of ten or twelve 30-minute episodes. Some will have to run for 20 years, like The Simpsons have. (Or for 40 years, like The Simpsons hopefully will.)
Once I’ve finished breaking down all my plans and projects into their appropriate show-sized packages, I’ll have what I need to lay out a schedule I can follow (and adapt) for years to come. The Free School on the Internet will “air” twice a week at a certain time, Lance’s Music Dream will be on a half-hour every weeknight, etc. And, in accordance with putting my plans where my mouth is, the show Writing with Lance will need to be on multiple hours, every day—kind of like American Idol in its heyday.
If I market these shows well enough to myself, I shouldn’t need to dramatize things much in order to keep the “viewer” (i.e., me) tuning in. For example Lance’s Music Dream would follow the story of my progression from musically-interested wanna-be into musically-capable home recording artist (with millions of Internet fans, lets assume.) Writing with Lance, as you may have observed first-hand, takes all sorts of entertaining and revealing turns when allowed to play out. And The Free School on the Internet show, which is slated to become one of the longest-running shows in the history of the network, follows Lance as he creates a new type of school which forever transforms the U.S. (and then the world’s) education system.
It’s “must-do” TV!
If it seems like the schedule will be a little top-heavy with reality TV, not to worry. My life is filled with plenty of quality drama and comedy naturally, just like everyone else…and I got my fill of “police procedurals” and crime scene “episodes” in my wayward youth, if you get my drift.
Of course there are also re-runs, and old shows on DVD—like when I caught up on five seasons of The Sopranos before its last season aired. In fact, I probably watch more non-new stuff each week than I do new stuff. And actually, my to-do list kind of parallels that. Dedicated readers know that I have thousands upon thousands of untamed voice recordings, videos, and photos…and a hearty stock of paper-based archival crapola as well. All of that stuff already occurred, in a way, and yet it needs to be relived at least once, and maybe more than once, so that it can be either dispatched into oblivion or moved into the bullpen of shows waiting to be put on next season’s schedule.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a TV addict to use this particular technique. I’m sure that all of my fellow serial procrastinators have something in their lives that they’re a bit of a junkie for. Whether it’s cycling, or reading, or craft fairs, or collectibles, or spending time with family, somewhere in your life there’s something that you’re so connected to that you meet your commitments to it generally without fail, and often automatically, without even thought.
So why can’t you convert your to-do list into a cycling schedule, or convert your to-do list into a craft fair season? TV is my easy instinct, so I turn my projects into TV shows and put ’em on the schedule, and make myself into a fan. But if it’s cycling you’re into, then you turn your major to-do items into mountains, and trails, and destinations that you want to “ride to”. Make each project into a long-distance cycling trip, and pretend that each of the goals you achieve on your project is actually you reaching a new landmark city on your trip. And reward yourself as such—celebrate the fact that you “rode to Philadelphia” (or Denver or whatever), when you wrapped up the Olsen account or finished learning French, or whatever it is that you avoided doing because it wasn’t a nice juicy bike trip before. Make yourself a cheese steak, visit the Liberty Bell online, read Ben Franklin’s autobiography—whatever feels right to mark your “arrival” at your new “destination”…and then start planning your next “trip”.
Everybody’s got something in their life that they always get done. Maybe you have a different activity that you’re hooked on, like live music or sports or gardening. But even if you don’t have some big extracurricular activity or interest that fills your heart with zazz, you still have things that you get done every day. You eat two or three meals and a snack or two every day, so why not have two or three meals and a snack or two of your major undone to-do items? Just like you have breakfast, have a “breakfast” of your project. Just as you have lunch, book a “lunch date” for another project. (Or maybe you only have time to have some snacks of your projects—that’s OK, it’s a start.)
If that doesn’t work for you, you do other things every day—you get dressed, you brush your teeth, etc. So what if you “brush” your planned Ladies’ Reading Club project, and you “dress” your unfinished photo album project, and you “tie the shoes” of cleaning out the garage…
I know, this all sounds a bit delusional, especially with all these air quotes involved. But it’s no more of a delusion than having important plans that you want to get done, but for whatever reason continue to not get done, day after day, week after week, month after month (and if you’re a world-class procrastinator like me, year after year, and even decade after decade)…
Terminal procrastination is one of the ultimate delusions. And I can say that, because I’m the king of the Delusional Terminal Procrastinators. And as your king, I hereby order you to take the things, however small, that you do succeed at getting done every day, and put at least as much of your personal energy into knocking your Great Undones into shape. And yes, if necessary, trick yourself by using the very same framework and terms from those things you somehow never miss out on. Whatever works, folks. (As long as there’s no bloodshed. Or minimal bloodshed at least.)
As for me, I’ve still got some work ahead of me in terms of planning and executing my new “TV schedule”—but as soon as I started talking to myself about my projects as “shows” to “tune in to” rather than just boring old “stuff to do”, I felt a tingle of excitement I haven’t felt in a while. Tasks that had become merely mundane (or even annoying) words on a page came to life as actual life events that would be happening—fun and rewarding activities I would be engaging in, week after week, until they come to exciting fruition some time down the road. (Presumably with a ground-breaking finale that has audiences buzzing for years to come.)
Plus, they all star me, and I love me! He’s one of my favorite actors. How could I not tune in to that?