All Gob, No Action

I would like to come up with some good excuses for why I haven't written the end of the massage story, but...ah ha! This is, it seems, the crux of the matter. Making excuses.

I have a bad habit of, well, bad habits. I am often late, as I was to the massage. I try to do one more thing before I race out the door to take the kids to school, or to pick them up from school, or to meet the person I'm having lunch with, or even, god forbid, someone I have to go interview for a story. I am easily overwhelmed. Sometimes I take it out on the people I love most, like my kids--snapping at them because I feel anxious that we're not going to be on time, keep a plan with someone and so on. This horrible behavior manifests in other ways, too. I am notoriously bad at returning phone calls, and even emails. Thank you notes? Only recently have I gotten a bit better at getting them written, but often, gifts have gone unacknowledged, too. Are you my good friend? Did you have a birthday? I may well have not sent you greetings, let alone a gift. This is terrible. I know better. The excuses I make to myself are all variations on the same theme: I am swamped. I am overwhelmed. I have trouble finding the time to [have a conversation] [type a response] [mail a gift.]

I compound the anxiety I feel about not responding promptly by...not responding belatedly, stressing out all the while. I know to whom I owe calls and emails and birthday wishes or thanks, but I feel so crappy about not having communicated on time that I delay and delay and delay until I make a small situation into a monster. And all the while, I have that little devil on my shoulder who stomps his feet, and gets angry at others' presumed expectations of me. (Of course, their expectations are no more demanding than my perceptions of what I should be doing--even as I am failing, miserably, to do it.)

This was an issue for me when I was working, too. A big part of my job was responding to ideas that people submitted to me. I received way more submissions than I could have ever hoped to say "yes" to, which meant that hours every week had to be spent saying "no." Sometimes, it was hard to work up the courage, so I'd delay...and you can guess the rest of the story.

So what does this have to do with the massage? In that moment, where Rebecca gently and humorously chided me for making us both late for our appointments, I realized: I do this to myself. I am the one who decides to squeeze in one more webpage view, one more errand, one more something instead of tackling the task that needs to come next. I don't know why. But this habit makes me feel pressured, overwhelmed, unable to cope, and results in my showing up late, or not at all (literally and figuratively.) This habit has caused me to lose friends, infuriated family members, and made me perform not as well as I could at work and at home.

An Aussie friend I was speaking to the other day described someone (else) as "All gob, no action." And though I'm not "no action", I am often "wrong action." Meaning, I prioritize poorly. I am trying to find ways to deal with this, and I welcome suggestions.

A couple of things that I'm finding helpful:

The Happiness Project I love this site, started by a college friend of mine. She's writing a book about her experiences trying out a bunch of different "prescriptions for happiness" and blog details things she'd found actually work. A lot of it boils down to knowing yourself, and doing what you know to be right in the moment. Check it out.

Nozbe I just started using this web-based project management tool, which is aligned with
the "Getting Things Done" philosophy. This is a way of approaching tasks to minimize wasted time and maximize productivity; it seems to be very much a Fast Company, Silicon Valley phenomenon (i.e., the province of 30 year old guys,) but it works. This particular tool is easy to use, has a fantastic iPhone interface, and it's free (at least the basic version, which is perfect for me.) You categorize the different projects (mine include my grocery list, a catch all to do list, my writing work, my film work) and then enter and prioritize the tasks in each. It's better than the million scraps of paper uh, "system" I sometimes use by default, and even better than the "carry a notebook with you everywhere system", which I like, and still try to do--sometimes you want to write, not type, especially when you have only a phone and no laptop with you-- but my kids tend to think I'm carrying that notebook so that they can have drawing paper at a restaurant, so it gets filled up fast.

A birthday book When we were leaving L.A., we asked just about every friend we could think of to tell us their family members' birthdays. (Fascinating, by the way, to see who gave us the year they were born--and who didn't.) In any case--one year later (ahem) I have (finally) transcribed them into a little red book, so that I can turn to April, say, and see who I want to send cards or gifts to. This doesn't mean it will always happen, or be on time (sorry, Willa! It's on the way, promise!) but I'm getting better. I actually already have purchased presents for three family members whose birthdays aren't until next month, so I'm feeling pretty cocky.

What do you do to keep track of your life?


rebecca said...

My darling, this isn't YOU. This is the state of MODERN MAN.

I didn't realize that, until I started reading all those books on meditation and Buddhism. Our expectations are so high for ourselves (and, no doubt, others). And there's more to do than every before.

I AM going to go check out that web app, though. I LOVE spending time researching things to help me save time!!!

And as someone who has recently received I believe TWO thank you notes from your return address, I must say: You're being hard on yourself.

Angelique said...

This can't possibly be about YOU. It is about ME. Oh my God, my friends have finally had enough and have now taken to publishing gently worded indictments of the way I (don't) do things. How you knew of that flagellating guilt devil on my shoulder is a mystery, however...

rebecca said...

PS I'm using toodledo.com -- one thing i like is that you can add a note to each action item, such as a hotlink to a phone number which of course then your iPhone can automagically dial for you. Couldn't figure this out with Nogbe.
Also, check this out -- http://jott.com/default.aspx -- it lets you call a number, record an action item, and it'll appear in your todo app. Not sure if you can use it w/Ngogobbe but apparently there's an interface with toodoodlydoodlydoo. Or whatever these are called!

margaret said...

I clicked deeper into your blog this time, and see that (big surprise!) we probably have fewer than six degrees of separation. The Happiness Project author was referred to my web designer pal recently by my oldest friends Kurt and Anne...and so the story goes round and round.
Why is the world so small (and also big)?