Tuesday, February 28, 2017

It's Working

But first, some bird news. I saw my first robin of the season this Sunday. I expected to see one long before this, as we’ve had a mild winter so far. I’m talking temps in the 60s and clear up to the 70s mild. The snow geese, whose annual migration route takes them through my area, usually show up around the beginning or middle of March. They’ve been and gone already. Why not? There was open water and food, so they passed through early.

That was also the weekend Lititz had its annual ice sculpture festival. They hold it outdoors in mid-February so the ice doesn’t melt. Wishful thinking this year, since weekend temperatures hovered in the mid-60s, with plenty of direct sunlight. I didn’t get much chance to look around, because Lititz was wall-to-wall people on Saturday and there was no parking, so I was restricted to whatever I could glimpse from the car. I didn’t go back on Sunday; I figured the sculptures would be shapeless lumps by then. Besides, I was working on paid stuff and didn’t get out of the house.

Which segues nicely into my topic for today. Last time I stopped here I detailed my plan to fight my computer game addiction (aka my procrastination problem) by reprogramming my brain not to play games in certain areas—in this case, the “office” where I have my old computer. In recent months I’ve had an increasing problem with game-playing interfering with my freelance paying stuff, and by extension my ability to pay the rent. By establishing the office as a “work only” zone, with no games allowed, I hoped to be able to set up the laptop in there and actually get stuff done.

And son of a Klingon, it worked.

Most of last week, from Tuesday until Friday morning, I set up in the office and wrote. Or at least I did until I got an assignment. Then I switched off between the paid project and the writing. Get tired of one, hop over to the other. Get tired of both, get up and do housework or something. I took a lot of bathroom breaks, but I managed to be productive rather than procrastinate. I was lucky in that the freelance work was an easy one this time around, in that the proofread pages just flew by.

And the writing. Holy guacamole. Most days I struggle to write a couple hundred words. My first day (before I went up to the library and discovered I’d be legitimately working that week) I typed at least 4000 words. The other couple of days I averaged around 2000, because I needed to allot time to get the paycheck-generating work out. I really felt no urge to switch to the games. My brain accepted the dictate of “no games in the office” and actually followed through.

That’s not to say I didn’t screw off. There were bathroom breaks, and food breaks, and breaks to check what was on cable, and breaks just to get up and move around. But for the most part, I worked. I averaged about 5-6 hours per day, which is more than a lot of people put in during an 8-hour work day. (I’ve worked in offices. I’ve seen masters of the art of slacking in action, people who put me to shame. When I worked at the newspaper, one of my fellow editors routinely put in 9-hour days. Literally half of that was spent standing around schmoozing with her coworkers. I kid you not.)

Clearly I’m on the right track here. Once the brain makes up its mind about something, it tends to stick to it. My years in the work force taught it to equate an office with worktime. Telling it I’m going to the “office” puts me into productive mode. Another couple of weeks and I may be able to get the habit to stick.

There are still a couple of speed bumps. I did set up on the couch and in bed a few times after dinner. I went right into the games. Not as bad as previously, but still. I need to reserve that for after the “work day,” when getting seized by gaming impulses doesn’t really matter. Maybe that’s why I was able to break off early. I’m not putting things off now. When I go for the games, the work’s already done for the day. It pretty much defeats the purpose of procrastination.

The next step is to stop getting the laptop out in bed and on the couch. I can write longhand there, or practice drawing or something. I haven’t decided what to designate the kitchen table as yet. I can see the TV from there, so it’s kind of a combination work desk/couch part 2. I should accept right now that I’m not going to get anything done while the TV’s on and plan accordingly.

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One last note on the writing: I still have a ways to go. I was typing like mad last week because I wanted to sub to an anthology and Friday was the deadline. Even with all the work I got done, I didn’t make it. On Thursday night I considered the time frame and where the manuscript was at and decided to skip it. I might have gotten the story done, but it would have been a rush job. Better to miss out, take my time, and give it the time and effort it deserves. I can still send it in to the publisher as an independent story. I still showed myself what I can do when my brain and I work together, and it was a definite win.

That means no more writing in bed. Save bed for reading and sleeping. And, oh yeah, other stuff. Which reminds me, I’d better change the sheets.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Turning Tricks

Let’s be straight from the outset: writing is hard work. Hard work and I have never gotten along. This is why, over the years, I’ve become a master procrastinator.

Take this morning. Yeah, I got a couple hundred words in. Then I looked out the window. One of the posts in my deck railing had come loose, the load-bearing one holding up the drain spout, leaving the pipe to hang at an angle. So of course I had to go out right then and nail it back into place. Then I had to make sure the tarp on the air conditioner was secure. Then, as long as I was dressed, I went out to the dollar store because I’d been planning to get light bulbs and paper towels anyway. When I got home, I did the dishes. Instead of finally getting back to my story, I’m now writing this blog. See how one thing leads to another?

Writing is the only time I feel an urge to do housework. Those women who publish a book a month either trained their kids as housekeeping staff, or have the best damn husbands on the planet.

And then there’s my more insidious method, the computer game addiction.

Since I posted my confession in January, I’ve had off-and-on success. I was “clean” for three weeks. I slipped up at the end of January, but vowed to kick the habit for February. That lasted three days, and culminated in an obsessive all-day marathon that kept me up until 3 in the morning. The only bright spot is that once I get sufficient sleep I wake up energetic and with no urge to play. Even so, I’ve had minor setbacks here and there.

Other people with different addiction problems have said this, and I’m adding my voice to the mix: will power does not work. It doesn’t make you weak or a loser. It’s just that determination alone isn’t sufficient. If you’re a food addict, clearing all the junk food out of the house might help, but you have to leave the house eventually. What’s to stop you from grabbing a box of Funny Bones while you’re out picking up the light bulbs and paper towels? Will power only goes so far.

In my case, the addiction is just another symptom. The underlying problem, the real problem, is procrastination. However, the addiction has become a threat to both my physical health and my chances of maintaining financial stability. I have to deal with the symptom directly while trying to root out the cause.

If will power won’t cut it, then I’ll have to resort to trickery.

One thing I’ve heard that does work, more or less, is replacing bad habits with better ones. This is why ex-smokers get fat. They substitute putting gum or something in their mouths instead of a cigarette. Is sugar better or worse for you than nicotine? You be the judge.

In my case, I’m trying a bit of re-programming. I’ve fallen into the unfortunate habit of playing wherever I set up the laptop, including out in public. The foremost danger zones are in bed and on the couch in front of the TV. If I stay off those, I’m halfway home.

This week I’ve designated my “office” (the second bedroom) as a no-game zone. When I sit at the desk in there, it’s work-related activities only. No games in the office from here on.

I know I can establish positive habits. I’ve already trained myself to do the dishes every night. The reward is waking up to a clean, empty sink in the morning. The office is where I keep my ancient desktop, the ‘90s-era Troglodyte 1000. That doesn’t have any games on it, so my brain’s already programmed to expect a game-free experience when I sit down at the keyboard. I just need to extend that mindset to include the laptop and I might be back in business.

As for the bed and the couch, well … I’m on the couch right now, and I’ve already jumped around several times between this blog and the games. I suspect aversion therapy—no more setting up in bed or in front of the TV—may be the only solution.

Next on the list will be training myself to avoid playing in public. Since I only set up outside the house to use public WiFi, I can distract myself with the Internet. Sugar or nicotine, pick your poison.

As for whatever it is that’s generating my procrastination in the first place, that’s going to take some digging. Maybe I’ll put that off for the time being, and just write instead. Replace bad habits with better, more productive ones. Isn’t that the point?