Procrastinating is easy, especially when something is difficult or time-consuming. We let ourselves off the hook now by promising to do the work later. I always tell myself that I’ll get around to it tomorrow — but sometimes, tomorrow doesn’t end up being tomorrow, or the day after, or even the day after that. Sometimes weeks go by before I get to something, because doing a little something isn’t worth it. No time to run a 5K? Then I’ll run tomorrow. No time to write a full chapter of my novel? I’ll write tomorrow instead. Starting and finishing an activity on separate days made me feel like I wasn’t giving it my full attention.
Never mind productivity, that insisting on completion might mean I wouldn’t write a blog post for three months, or that because I wasn’t running at all, I’d gain weight — anything less than complete was partial credit. It wasn’t worth my time.
This past semester, I had more than enough to do between multiple jobs and grad school. As if that wasn’t enough, my dance partner and I agreed to perform in a ballroom dance showcase just two weeks before final exams.
It would have been easy to procrastinate, to wait until the last minute to practice the routine, which ran a whopping six minutes to live music. My partner had work; I had papers to write and rewrite. We had plans to dance in an amateur competition about a month before the showcase, and we were worried — because we couldn’t dance six minutes of Viennese waltz, our showcase was a modified American waltz with alternative timing. Practicing both a normal and modified waltz would muddle both dances — let alone the huge problem that planning studio time to practice was impossible because my partner’s schedule was at odds with mine.
For the second time this showcase, my partner and I chose to get creative.
His solution was practicing wherever — and whenever — we could meet. Sometimes that meant moving the furniture in the TV room at his house. Other times, that meant practicing in the basement of one of the academic buildings at my university, sometimes in front of a staircase. We would rarely dance for more than 45 minutes, but at least it was something; if we wanted to perform well, we had no choice but to practice when and where we could.
Even though those “sort of” practice sessions seemed less than legit at the time, those little somethings added up to something big. Practice is practice, even if it’s done in little bits instead of big chunks. How much more would I have written if I allowed partial drafts for my novel or a blog post? How much fitter would I be if I accepted shorter runs as valid exercise? An unwavering insistence on completion constrains people in the same way that a desire for perfection can paralyze them. My fixation on starting and finishing a project in the same block of time was no longer serving me.
Any challenging experience can teach you something. This showcase reminded me that I don’t always have to dedicate a single, lengthy chunk of time to an activity — working on a project in small bits is something, and that’s a heck of a lot better than nothing. 😉
Video courtesy of Hamden Symphony Orchestra.