I haven’t managed to finish a post in about a week and a half. It’s not because I don’t have anything to say, but because I have been completely unfocused. More and more often I’m realizing that this inability to focus on any one thing for an extended period of time is one of my lesser attributes.
I have a tendency to get bored, and move on to something else before I’ve finished the first thing I started. Just last night, I caught myself multi-tasking three different projects with no real progress. You might ask why someone with ample free time would be multi-tasking. I asked myself in fact. I didn’t come up with any real answer; other than that is the only way I know how to work.
It started developing when I was in college, or maybe even high school, but I never recognized it as a problem, because I am also quite responsive to deadlines. I was always able to bounce from project to project, idea to idea but still get everything done because it was “due” by a specific time. I learned to work in a chaotic state of disorganized organization that could make sense to no one but me. I thrived on the constant pressure to complete a boatload of assignments within the time constraints of working two part-time jobs and attending classes.
After college I went straight into my first full-time job. I worked in a residential home for adolescents with developmental disabilities. With a rotation of three shifts and a variety of employees in and out of the house, plus the general confusion that is to be expected with three energetic boys who demand constant attention, things were regularly in a state of disarray. Again, I thrived, managing a million things at once, and somehow getting them all done by the time they were due. Within a year I was promoted into management.
With increased job responsibilities, there came increased chaos, and my state of disorganized organization kicked into overdrive. For two years, I balanced a steady workload of assignments with the less predictable elements of my job and got nearly all of it done, but I began to realize that this way of working couldn’t be the best way.
After years of working like a madwoman to get multiple things done at once, I realized that I was hardly ever giving my full attention to any one thing. My workload had increased so much that I was forgetting about other things that were important to me. I was miserable and burned-out. My job wasn’t making me happy and I wanted to pursue things that would. So I quit.
I took a part time job that was enough to pay my bills and drastically decreased my responsibilities. It was glorious. I finally had time to write, cook, see my family, apply for graduate school—the possibilities were endless, but then again, so were the timelines.
Therein lies my problem, without due dates, I find I hardly ever get anything done. Revision gets put to the back burner because I hate (or maybe fear) it. New pieces get started but never finished. I move from one thing to the next and so on, but lack the motivation to go back to the first project and finish it. In college I used to be able to sit and write a short story draft (usually a shitty one) in a couple of hours; now I hardly get through a page. I want to apply for graduate school, but I don’t have a portfolio to send because I can’t manage to finish a project.
To put it simply: I am not motivated without outside expectations.
It’s a learned behavior, and I know it can be changed. So, I’m going to make a plan, teach myself a new way. I know it’s possible, I’ve taught much more complicated behaviors to less eager learners. I fear one potential downfall: I’m going to have only my own expectations and timelines to work with.
I’m struggling against a long learning history and the solution to my problem runs the risk of falling victim to the problem, but I think I can do it. I have ample experience with teaching behaviors, I just have to make a concrete plan and reinforce the hell out of myself.
If I want to live up to my own expectations, I’m going to have to teach myself how to.
I’ve put it in writing, that’s step one of holding myself accountable. Now I’ll give myself a deadline: by Sunday night, I’ll have a plan posted. Let’s see if I can pull this off.