The Curse of Too Much Time on My Hands

Today, on a bank holiday Monday, I lay in bed and thought about all of the things I could be doing. At about 10am, I got up and knocked out a couple of songs on the guitar while I waited for the kettle to boil, then made a cup of tea, grabbed the laptop and went back to bed. And all of a sudden, it was past eleven, and I had lost over an hour to Facebook and Medium, when I meant to be writing.

That realisation made me think about a TedTalk I watched last week which was quite possibly my favourite one ever — Tim Urban on “Inside the Mind of A Master Procrastinator.” Watch it. It’s hilarious. And true.

When I watched it, I finally felt that someone truly understood my struggle to be productive. And when it was over, I searched out his blog, had good read, subscribed to his mailing list, checked out a couple of the suggested links, then commented on the link to the friend that had posted it, telling him that I was going to start a new blog post (well, after dinner).

My friend is the kind of person who sets a goal and then does things, whereas I spend my days in the company of the fun loving, instant gratification seeking monkey Tim Urban talk about. My friend said he’d look forward to reading it, and since that was six days ago, I can only hope he wasn’t holding his breath in anticipation.

Part of the reason for my constant procrastination is that I am not gainfully employed at the moment. I do a fair amount of voluntarily work, supporting local groups and community initiatives, but I still have a rather large amount of free time at my disposal.

It’s a wonderful thing, having all this time — I keep the house ticking over, shop, look after the kids and taxi them between their various after-school pursuits. I play my guitar as much as possible, and our home is relatively stress free. All of the juggling that families with two working parents have to do, is absent from our lives.

I know I’m lucky, and I don’t mean to complain, but I thought I would have the book I’m writing finished by now.

For me, the real problem is focus. Because my free time is infinite it is very difficult to focus -there is simply never a need for me to use my time effectively.

So I didn’t have time to write a blog post after dinner last Tuesday, no worries! There’s always Wednesday, but Wednesday was my first morning home alone with nothing to do for a couple of weeks, so I made all of those phone calls I had been meaning to make, and then spent 90 minutes more talking to a friend who called me. In the afternoon the kids had drama and music lessons. Thursday was written off to a migraine, Friday morning I had a meeting, a friend called, I had a client, collected the smallest one from football, packed us up and went to the in-laws for the weekend.

And then I was away for the weekend.

I can always justify it.

Last week, the PC ate my blog post. Really. The machine was working slowly, and I thought I had saved my work, and walked away. It went into hibernation, and when I re-started the thing a few hours later, it was gone. Naturally, it was some of my best work — I was in the flow, and truly delighted with some of the more descriptive passages it contained; since then, I’ve been taking some time to mourn my loss.

And there I go, off topic, which I do a lot, mostly because I can. Because there is seldom any constraint on my time I can wander off in pursuit of that monkey. This blog post can take as long as it takes. My novel can take as long as it takes. Time is my enemy in a different way to how most experience that particular phenomenon.

When I began my first career job after college, I used to take the same bus every morning. It was a regional service, driven by a lovely man named Christy, who used to smile and tell anyone who ever complained about its late arrival “Sure the fella that made time made loads of it.”

Which is my problem in a nutshell. There’s loads of it. And it lacks any kind of structure, no two weeks are the same, and the fact that I cannot manage this makes me feel like something of a failure. Forty two, with no work, no focus, and a scary lack of a future vision for myself.

What if I never finish writing my novel? In its unfinished state it will never be recognised as the seminal piece of literature in a new canon of contemporary writing that it is. Or something to that effect. Then I’ll berate myself even further for wasting these precious months.

Tim Urban, in the talk I mentioned earlier, talks about the frustration of not being able to begin to start chasing your dreams. That is a very real thing.

And I know about setting goals (SMART ones even!), and I understand human nature, and my own patterns and my ability to self sabotage, so what I have decided to do is this.

Every Monday, I begin the week with a “to do” list. It usually amounts to a list of small tasks like making a phone call, or following up on some piece of work I’m doing voluntarily. But I prioritise these tasks, then fly through the list , just because I love ticking things off it. Those tiny little ticks beside my own scrawl make me feel as though I have achieved something in my day. Those marks are, in some small way, how I focus myself on achieving.

So, for this week, I am going to put “write something” on my daily “to do” list. I am going to list it with those other things I must do, and as something I must prioritise, instead of waiting until everything else on that list is done before I give myself permission to write.

In reality, this intention is a small, measurable, achievable goal.

Goals are usually something I try to avoid, because in my world they can be difficult to set and to accomplish, and the end result is that I feel like a failure, because, while my time is free, it is not necessarily my own (I have been interrupted by my children no fewer than thirteen times while I have written this much).

I don’t know if this will work, but in the absence of any other ideas, it’s definitely worth a try.

Watch this space.