A long introduction
I just learned about PA and heard a member compare the debilitating efforts of chronic procrastination to those of heroin, which sadly rang true.
I'm sure procrastination isn't my only problem, but it's a big one. Going back to childhood, I can remember coming home from school with homework, which I was supposed to finish before I could go outside and play or watch TV, etc. What usually happened is that I would sit at my desk, but instead be drawing or reading a book of Charlie Brown cartoons or, as I got older, listening to radio. I often wouldn't really get my work done until after supper and, especially once I was in junior high, I was increasingly isolated from my peers, who in the transition from elementary school, now seemed to live in a different world.
Now, I'm middle-aged, with bachelor's and master's degrees in communication. In January, I was laid off after more than a decade as a reporter and editor for a group of monthly town newspapers and writer for a city magazine. The company had sold off the magazine and closed three money-losing town papers and was restructuring, so cuts had to be made. In giving me a pink slip, I would say the owner-publisher was very generous, because I really could have been fired with cause at almost any point in the nine or so years leading up to that point. The head of the editorial dept., who oversaw all of the papers, had protected me many times by obscuring the fact that I was the one who had held things up when dealing with the production department, which was overseen by the more hard-nosed deputy publisher.
Early on in my tenure I took the deadlines seriously, though it was still a struggle for me to meet them. I'm a shy person by nature and I would agonize and put off calling people I needed to talk to for stories, especially if I thought I was going to be asking them questions they didn't want to answer. I think I also have a bit of ADD, and I'm indecisive, and with 12 or so stories on my list for each month, I never was sure what I should be working on first - writing the stories for which I'd completed interviews or making calls to get information for others. Still, it didn't get really crazy until the company started a regional paper that operated on a different (deadline and publishing) schedule from the town papers; that was about a year or two after I was hired.
The Internet, which I'd never had access to before, became a huge distraction, an addiction really. My searches for information would veer into areas unrelated to work. I would end up staying late, not doing my job but becoming a better informed person (I'd rationalize), and finally settle down and get things done, usually after everyone in the editorial department had left for the day. Many of my co-workers thought it was because I was such a hard worker and a perfectionist, and to be immodest, my work was that good and I was more willing to tackle more controversial stories than many colleagues, though it continually caused great anxiety; that and being generally easy to get along with and being contrite and never getting defensive or arguing with my supervisors when I screwed up kept me employed there for as long as I was. And more than once I was called on the carpet, warned and (at one point) demoted with my pay cut. For awhile the terminal on my desk was disconnected from the internet, except for email, so after hours I'd simply go on a co-worker's computer.
After several months there was a reorganization (at this point they were still starting new papers and adding staff) and I was given back responsibility for the two papers I had initially been writing/editing for, which I hadn't really earned it. I still would put off doing the toughest stories (I rationalized that by telling myself that I wanted them to be as up-to-the-minute as possible, even though it was very unlikely that I could scoop the big daily paper). Still, I had a great sense of responsibility and of the importance of what I was doing - one of the papers covered the town I grew up in and was very closely read by residents, including my parents who, of course, read everything I wrote (my dad, by then retired, had spent his entire career as a typesetter for daily newspapers).
As I stayed later and later at work, not necessarily accomplishing anything, my relationship with my wife also suffered. We are still married, though not entirely happily for either of us, something else that's in limbo in my life. We don't have any children.
In the last few years, my time management at work deteriorated further. Typically, I would not not have a single story completed by the deadline. I feel as if somewhere along the line something in my brain snapped or decided that the work didn't matter anymore, or the clock for the rush of adrenaline that would get me through the writing had been pushed back. I was staying late with little to show for it the next day, and increasingly, into a cycle in which I would lose opportunities to contact people in the morning and essentially became invisible to my coworkers during deadline week.
Even on days after the deadline I would stray from writing into surfing the web or still be making calls for stories, staying in the office into the wee hours of the morning. My web use has an obsessive compulsive aspect to it; if I found a new site that was interesting I would have to look at everything on it, as if I would never be able to find it again, and doing that somehow took precedence, in my mind, over getting my work done. I was always aware of the time, seldom moving from my desk, and as it would get later I'd be recalculating what I could get done that night. As the person who drew up the story budgets for my two papers, assigning stories including my own, I knew what stories had to run that month and about how much would be needed to fill the papers. Sleep-deprived and increasingly dreading seeing my boss, I would decide which non-time-sensitive feature stories could be put off for the subsequent issue - in some cases the same story, for which I'd already done interviews and taken photos, would be put off two or three times. I could have written those stories the next week, at the beginning of the deadline cycle for the next paper, but of course I never did.
I was also overwhelmed by the amount of email I was receiving and after slipping up and not getting a few community announcements in the paper, I decided I had to deal with every message the day it came in and that came to dominate a lot of the time I was actually in the office, when I hoped to write, or so I told myself. Ultimately, it got to the point that I couldn't write a single story until all of the reporting (interviews, etc.) for all of my stories was done.
Unemployed, I'm continuing in the same pattern, only on my computer at home. Every night I tell myself I'm going to turn off the computer and get to bed by midnight or 1 a.m., so I can start moving toward a regular sleep schedule more in synch with the rest of the world, but I don't do it, so I end up going to bed around 3-3:30 or if I'm really into something, 4:30, 5 or 6 a.m., which makes me useless for the rest of that day.
I've been to numerous workshops and seminars on finding work, but the result is that I've been like a deer frozen in the headlights, overwhelmed and/or worried that I'll mess up. As had been the case with my stories, I'm constantly taking in detailed information but never internalizing it or breaking it down into steps and putting it into practice.
When I was first laid off, I considered it an opportunity to make a fresh start, to be bold and finally live up to my potential and get a job in line with my education, experience and abilities. I was thinking of making some kind of career change, to do some kind of job in which I'd be on a regular schedule, work more directly with people, responding to issues on the spot as they came up - work that I wouldn't take home, in which things would have finite endings. Maybe I wouldn't be writing, or it wouldn't be writing with my name on it for all the world (or the town I grew up in) to see and judge. I met with a state career counselor who didn't offer any of that kind of help at all. Perhaps I should have hired someone to help me do that; maybe I still should, though I can't necessarily afford it. I think there's a serious lack of self-confidence lurking in all of this. I see a psychiatrist who has me on several meds, and I see a therapist for talk therapy.
Now as my initial period of collecting unemployment is winding down, I'm thinking I just need to be doing something, that being in the house on the computer all the time is not what I need. I also need to start applying for jobs or my unemployment won't be renewed. Despite all the advice and tricks of the trade I've learned from HR specialists, I still don't have a resume I'm satisfied with. After taking an all-day seminar that I didn't initially realize was state-sponsored, one of their counselors asked all the participants to send copies of their resumes so they could help us. I still haven't done it.
I apologize for going on like this. I was always a procrastinator growing up, but I always made my deadlines because it seemed like I had no choice. Now I don't seem to find anything urgent or have the motivation to do what's in my own best interest. I think my procrastinating is intertwined with a lot of other issues, probably including ADD, lack of self-discipline, now-engrained bad habits, oppositional defiance (maybe I really wanted out of the job all along, or midlife rebellion against authority), as the above suggests. Dragging out my homework enabled a shy, awkward kid to avoid interacting with his peers after school, and later from taking risks in many aspects of life that could have been highly rewarding, from fully experiencing life and the possible humiliation of rejection in trying to reach for bigger and better things.
In joining PA, I'm not sure what I expect or how hard I'm willing to work to change, despite my growing desperation and awareness that solutions aren't going to just drop into my lap. Thanks for your time and attention.