I have been juggling a number of projects lately, some better than others, and I was reminded of my constant wrestling match with procrastination and timing. I am a perfect mix of impatient and driven combined with task averse which makes me really good at being anxious about what I haven’t completed. The problem is that all tasks aren’t the same. There are tasks, like mailing packages, or doing paperwork that really need a pro-active stance, and not a pro-crastination stance. But much of the creative world—writing, creating, healing, helping—is served by a more fluid style where the active and pensive are comingled and you can’t always tell them apart. And you can’t always see the progress you are making until it leaps ahead. But there can be so many days of self-doubt before that.
This summer I read the biography of Einstein by Isaacson and I was struck by the weight that Einstein put on thought—on daydreaming—and how productive it was. The time for creative thought was the soil that helped grow his ideas. The problem with our driven and productivity-oriented world is that creation is rarely linear. Much of it is an organic growth process that has its own trajectory, its own wisdom. At best you can distract yourself with things that look like tasks that keep you out of the way while the real creation happens. At worst, you can interfere or give up because ‘nothing is happening.’
Some of the best things I have created happened much later than I planned. I had planned to be ready to go, ready to be finished much, much earlier. Yet, if I had finished the project too quickly they would never have become what they needed to become, or I wouldn’t have been able to shepherd them the way I needed to. The whole project—the idea, and who I was needed time to grow in to the project. It’s those moments I need to hang on to when I find myself frustrated that I am not moving fast enough—when I am not ‘getting things done.’
And don’t mistake my message. I am not opposed to productivity. The world is filled with false dichotomies—and this is one of them—this creativity vs. productivity split. I aspire to David Allen’s Getting Things Done as much as the next person. But clearing your desk is a means to an end. Not the end. And once it is clear, if you are engaged in a creative process, then the next phase is slower, is organic, it isn’t the same as getting through your to-do list. And of course you need the flexibility to be able to do some of both. Even on your creative days you need to ‘show up’ in some way—be engaged, follow your instincts, your interests. Minimally, you often need to get your butt in the chair--ready to work.
I suppose I wanted to write all of this to say that in the process of healing, in the process of bringing fragmented parts together, in the process of building whatever you want—there are times of progress and there are times of slowness and it is so important to trust your own timing. To believe in an inner wisdom that knows better than you do what you need to do now, what you need to do next. To believe and trust that there is growth happening even when you can’t see it. And sometimes in order for growth and healing to happen there must be slow times. It is required.
This time of year in the northeast is the perfect reminder for that. In my garden, under the ground, are my tulips, and daffodils, crocus, snowdrops and scilla. All spring bulbs sleeping quietly in the frozen ground. It looks like nothing is happening. It would be mistaken for a waste of time. Yet without this cold winter they wouldn’t bloom. They rely on the cold of winter to trigger the biochemical process necessary to flower in the spring. Without this period of cold dormancy they would not become who they are supposed to be.
So take some time to appreciate your slow times this winter. And take time to wrestle with your reasons for procrastinating. Both are important questions. Is it time for me to rest, to be dormant, to daydream? And is it time for me to climb back up, to push against the soil, to break through what is difficult and shine? The questions may be more important than the answers.
© Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD 2016