I need to write a presentation but I am finding it hard to craft the beginning. To avoid the discomfort of sitting and staring at an empty screen I go and make coffee but, as the minute’s tick by, I start to feel bad about myself, about not using my time efficiently.
To avoid the growing feeling of worthlessness I look through the cupboards to make sure I have the right ingredients to make pancakes later because it is Shrove Tuesday. I wonder about the origin of the word “Shrove” and find it comes from “shriven”, the presenting of oneself to be absolved from sin.
Distraction feels like sin and I want to be absolved.
If I could add up the minutes of distraction and use them constructively I wonder what I might achieve. This too is a distraction of course, and I find myself drawn into a sort of meta distraction which takes me further away from where I need to be. Further from the comfort of accomplishment.
Finally, back at my desk, I celebrate a victory of sorts. But it soon unravels.
Scrolling through my Twitter feed I notice that someone I follow, whose posts annoy me with constant inane and pointless observations. Whose life I have no interest in but follow feverishly, has posted a total of 154k tweets. I work out that she has spent approximately 800 hours posting pointless information to people she doesn’t know who care as little about her life as I do. I immediately feel better and make a sandwich.
Earlier this week, unable to decide which of the items on my to-do list I should target I don’t do any of them and instead I buy a new notebook for to-do lists. The old one isn’t finished but I justify the purchase by telling myself that the current one is lined and I don’t like lines because that means order and restriction. It means there are rules and I don’t want rules. Without rules, I cannot be breaking them and therefore I can’t be doing anything wrong, and so I don’t have to feel bad.
When my notebook arrives I run my fingers over the smooth black cover. I swish it like a flick book and hear the purr of the pristine pages. I can smell the creamy white paper and I ponder over which pencil to use and what to write, because the first subject, the first sentence, the first letter of a new notebook is everything.
I stumble across an article which suggests owning multiple half-finished notebooks is a sure sign of distraction and inefficiency. I have multiple notebooks, none of them finished. Often I don’t want to write in them. Not because I don’t know what to write but because getting started carries a burden of expectation and expectation is frightening.
A client tells me that we are in a period of Mercury retrograde. Apparently, this means it’s a bad time to make big legal or financial commitments, sign contracts and get married. I wonder, “Is it safe to write presentations about addiction?”. Apparently that is beyond the scope of Mercury, which is disappointing.
Perhaps there is a pattern to my distraction. Maybe there are certain times when it appears more vibrantly than others. I make a list, in a different notebook.
1. Writing presentations which will be judged by others.
2. Making phone calls to people I don’t know.
3. Making decisions that impact other people in case I upset them.
4. Having to tell someone the answer is “No” in case they reject me.
A theme emerges.
Distraction stops feeling like sin and starts to feel like misguided protection. Like a big brother who punches the bully but gets the wrong guy.
Feeling better I decide to put off thinking about the presentation and write about why I can’t get started on the presentation. But it’s time to go and walk the dog, so I do that instead.