I learned something new last week about procrastination by watching poor little Addyboy struggle with a big project. And I think it may truly change the way I approach the things I have been putting off doing.
About a month ago, Adam came home very worked up. “I have to do a huge Mission project and I need to start now!” I assumed it was due right away, but no, he had a month. His reaction to the due date was extreme. I explained that we would work on it a little each day and he would have plenty of time to get it done. With his intensity, though, I figured he would be done early.
But days turned into weeks, and soon Spring Break was upon us. He began anew with his panic. “I have to get it done before Spring Break because I don’t want to be stuck doing it all on my vacation.” He fretted. But still, he did not start. Each day had a new excuse; a more important thing to get done (and of course there was the Nintendo to be played…). Each day I reminded him in count down fashion, so-many-days left, to no avail. I prompted him to collect cereal boxes. I showed him the paint he could use. I made him a list of questions to help as he did his research. I was determined not to do it for him, but to clear the way for his success as he did it all on his own. I wanted him to feel supported, but also, that true confidence could be his because he had done the work himself. He remained stagnant.
With a week to spare, my reminders were met with tears, as he suddenly felt the weight of the task still ahead. A mission to build, a report to write, maps and art to make… it seemed impossible all of a sudden. Each day I sat with him and worked for an hour or so, but it was slow going, and tears came easily. I had him begin with the report and collecting the main components for building his mission. It seemed a logical place to have him start.
I was wrong.
I had forgotten what it is like to be ten. Logic isn’t fun. It’s totally boring. It wasn’t until he was 4 days away from D-day, and still barely underway, that I had an idea. I got out my polymer clay.
“What if we take a break from building the buildings and start on the inside. What do you want to put in the rooms?” He was blank, almost paralyzed. He couldn’t imagine where to begin. Besides, he said, he was not good at clay, like mom. So we started with a little lesson. We tinkered and experimented. We messed up and started over. We made silly and random things. Soon we were focused on a room; the kitchen.
Tiny dishes began to take shape. Next silverware, itty-bitty forks and knives that I would demonstrate, and then he would create all by himself. He invented food and even made little candles with real wicks for the candle making workshop.
It wasn’t long before his mind was bursting with ideas, and his energy became boundless. We stayed up late and started again early. It was a challenge because I was splitting my time with him and the rest of the kids, as we were babysitting 5 additional children for the weekend. Guy was swallowed in homework and had not been to bed in two days, so we were on our own, which meant that a lot of the time Adam was on his own, but his thrill at having found something meaningful in this project kept him moving. He didn’t play all day, though the laughter of the eight other children beckoned to him. He was motivated.
Once the walls were up and the floors were in, his excitement took on a whole new dimension as he began to place all of the tiny things he had made into the mission. Tombstones, altars, adobe bricks and tiny rugs.
He was beside himself with pride at the little sink full of dirty dishes that he made in the kitchen, inspired, no doubt, by the state of the neglected kitchen he worked in. It was coming together.
“I wish I had even more time,” he lamented at 10PM, the night before it was due. “I have so many more ideas I could do.” There wasn’t time for many of them, but he took a few minutes to create his crowning glory, a fountain with tiny coins in the water.
Soon, the mission was compete, and I helped him finish typing the report. He went to bed, exhausted and satisfied at nearly midnight.
I have reflected over the little journey this assignment took Adam on. He seemed to be procrastinating, but maybe he simply needed to find his best starting place. How often do we put off a project or task because we think we dread the work to be done? What if we just need to find our perfect starting place? What if we need to start our mission the way we start the day, with inspiration for the journey?
Today I will, at long last, embark on something I have been putting off. I plan not to start at the most logical place this time, because that has gotten me nowhere for weeks. Today, I will start with something that enlivens my senses and gets my juices flowing. It will need to be unconventional, because convention has failed me repeatedly when it comes to daunting tasks.
But I think it is possible.