“I should…” Fill in the blank. The tension between what I should do versus the thing I actually do. I should clean the house, but I’m reading a book. I should write now, but I’m dawdling with the crossword. I should get out my needle and thread and repair some clothes, but I’m out in the garden deadheading the roses.
Procrastination. Deferment of what I don’t want to do. People call me a go-getter, a hard worker, a person who gets things done on time, and, surprisingly, it’s largely true. Faced with a deadline, I complete a task. Faced with something I want to do, I don’t need a deadline. Faced with doing something I don’t want to do and no deadline — that’s where I fall down.
I suspect others suffer from a variation on this theme. I’ve heard it said that the Pareto rule applies: 80% of the population needs a deadline to complete anything; 20% don’t. I used to fall into the 20% category, but I feel myself slipping into the 80% category these days. I’m not reassured by this shift.
When I was small, my Great-Step-Aunt Aggie asked me to do something. I hardly ever saw her (she lived in Edinburgh; we lived in Dundee), she was very old (96 when I was 6), she always wore black, and she was bent over with arthritis. She also had an acid tongue. When I forgot to complete the task (I’ve forgotten the task now), she fixed me with her rheumy eyes and asked, “Why didn’t you do it?”
My head flew in five directions at once. I should have said, “I forgot.” Instead, I said, “I didn’t have the time.” The grown-ups used that phrase all the time and it worked for them. It didn’t work for me. Aunt Aggie barked back: “You’ve got all the time there is.”
This phrase has stuck with me through my entire life, even though the task is long forgotten. I didn’t understand what she said then, but I do now. You have ‘x’ amount of time, not a second more, not a second less. What will you do with it? Priorities.
I think that explains my shift. If I want to dawdle over the crossword or deadhead the roses these days, I do. I still write, usually about 3-5 hours a day, but I don’t get upset if I only write for an hour or two one day. I do what I feel like doing in the moment. In one way, with so little of life left, I feel the pressure of time and wonder why I’m happy giving in to my whims and not “getting things done.” In another way, I revel in the lack of pressure, the joy of enjoying myself with something. And I remember my mother’s dictum in her later years: “No one ever went to her grave wishing she’d cleaned more.” I think I’ll read a book next.