The Momentum Optimization Project: Sometimes, an object needs to rest.

I started this post four months ago.

I can explain.

It was a busy summer and early fall, consumed by a large project that was running late. I was, for the most part, waking up every single morning to tend to manuscript bits and bobs, and trying to finish up early enough to do some actual summertime parenting in the late afternoons (first world problem alert: I do realize that spending time at the beach is a weird factor in the “busy” equation–but it is something that competes with time spent cleaning house or working on paid projects). Anyway, by the end of September, when I started this post, I was in the endzone on that project, and the next year’s projects were just starting to peek through the snow, so to speak. Essentially, I was heading into a work lull.

I should have been proactive. I know. Really. I tried to be. I made plans to get ahead—to jump in with both feet on next year’s work, and oh yeah, while it wasn’t too busy, to go ahead and write a ton of content for this blog that I could have just sitting on my computer, ready to post for all my loyal readers (hello, friends and family!) at a leisurely pace. I would get all that holiday shopping done early, work the sales. I would learn to sew and reupholster my couch.

None of this happened. I did, however, trudge down to my basement lair daily and prepare to work. I sat at the desk. I opened the books. I looked at the manuscript, but didn’t really edit much. I watched course videos and read news articles related to a new discipline I’m working in. I started mulling, and researching, different directions in which I might take my career. I began researching ideas for a new project to develop on my own. Realizing that I probably needed to update my resume, I looked at some colleagues’ for ideas on how I might do it. Essentially, I fussed about on the edges of work–but didn’t get any substantial work done.

I was distracted even from my distractions. I spent countless hours window shopping but didn’t purchase any Christmas gifts until about a week before Christmas (thank you, I started several blog posts, but they were shite and just festered in my WordPress drafts folder, underdeveloped and unfinished. I served jury duty. I cleaned the house. I weeded the closets and the pantry and more. I spent hours clicking through Pinterest and Apartment Therapy looking for solutions for troublesome areas of my house, but made little progress because I wasn’t really “working” and thus could not really justify spending money on said projects. I bought a sewing machine that I have no idea how to use. I researched ways to help my kids with schoolwork, looking for a better understanding of the challenges (and opportunities) of the common core, and investigating ways to help them build better study skills. I found a ton of books for my kids to read and ordered them from the library. Ironically, I spent a lot reading blogs and articles about procrastination and productivity.

This happens every year. The Spousal Unit refers to it as my Seasonal Affective Funk. It’s partly that–I am pretty much solar powered, and so the dark days do take a toll. But a peek at my billing history, which provides a fair accounting of how productive I really am every week of the year, reveals that I usually slow down in late fall and then pick up just after the new year, when the days are at their darkest. It happens, quite simply, when I put one project to bed after working on it for the better part of a year. There’s a cycle in textbook publishing, and that’s the lull. It’s when, per Newton’s Law of Personal Momentum, I am abruptly transformed from an Object in Motion to an Object at Rest. Because if I don’t have a LOT of stuff to do? I’m not going to do a lot of stuff.

The irony here, of course, is that I’ve spent a great deal of time here talking about how I magically transformed my kids’ habits by just making a list and sticking to it. But no amount of list making seems to snap me out of this annual funk (although I suspect there might be some drugs that could help). Yes, I sat at my desk and pretended to work. I might as well have been playing video games.

But not really.

A long time ago, during another autumnal work funk, I stumbled upon this fabulous post extolling the virtues of structured procrastination. We procrasinators aren’t doing nothing; we’re just putting off important things to tend to “marginally useful things.” Why beat ourselves up over it? Even the less pressing things on the to-do list need to get done. For example, I’d been ignoring the clutter in my house for months while I was very busy–I needed to catch up on that, and now my closets are quite a bit less cluttered. I absolutely needed to spend some time looking at resumes, as my industry is changing profoundly in the digital age, and my lone promotional document was clearly written in 2001. And while I haven’t quite gotten around to reupholstering the couch, I did tag some solid directions for creating summer slipcovers out of bleached dropcloths, and set a goal to learn to use the machine well enough to pull it off by next summer. Pressing issues? Maybe not, but I am I’m fairly certain they’ll cumulatively improve my house, my work, the kids’ schoolwork, and my mindset moving forward. But you know, at the end of the day personal growth won’t pay the bills.

No matter. There comes a point when the procrastinator can procrastinate no more. Come the first week of January, when the kids go back to school and I crack open my new desk diary, I always hit the ground running. And here I am, at the end of my first full week of 2015, and I have billed a solid week’s worth of work, tended to some PTA stuff, and I’m fairly confident that I’ll be finishing this blog post today.

Anyway, welcome to 2015. Nap time is over.


6 thoughts on “The Momentum Optimization Project: Sometimes, an object needs to rest.

  1. I always love reading your blog. I think I will get a new planner and join you …. Procrastination no more… Nap time is over. Thanks!

  2. I stumbled across your blog today and have loved your parenting posts (and even procrastination ramblings). Recovering my sofa was one of my household procrastinations for a long time as well! If you haven’t already completed your project, and want an alternative example to sewing a slipcover, check out my DIY No-Sew Drop Cloth Sofa Recover post here:

    About a month ago I did a recover of an old recliner chair. Of course That blog post may take me a few months to post as well 🙂

    Can’t wait to read more of your blog!

    • THank you so much for this. I actually started preparing to do just this last summer–I bought the drop cloths, bleached them, got my hands on a sewing machine…. and then ran out of steam. You’re no-sew approach is VERY appealing. New summer goal!

  3. I love the ideas you have presented here. I was trying to figure out Summer screen time when a friend forwarded this post to me. Its great to use as a guide and add to what I was starting to do. I do have a question, do you let your kids do any summer school work on the computer? My kids have accounts set up with Khan Academy to practice their math, and we have Spanish on Rosetta Stone. I’m having a hard time saying no screen time until chores and academics are done, when most of the school work is via computer. Any thoughts on how to handle this?? Both kids are voracious readers so they read already in the mornings, plus I have no screen time policy between 4-5pm just to take a screen time break of reading or art, or to just go outside.

    • Hi! When I wrote this post a long while ago, I failed to really define “screen time.” I really should have said “gaming time” or just “mindless media consumption time.” I can’t see anything wrong with spending time on a computer doing something that is really creative or productive, and I consider reading the news online or reading an ebook the same as reading in any other format. If the problem is that they’re using the computer to do homework but distracted by IMS or other media, consider installing Anti-Social or Freedom on your machine, which shuts down the Internet (or access to specific distracting sites) so they can focus on matters at hand. I use it to focus on work all the time.

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