Lockdown Lethargy #2: What’s Going On?

Hello, you have landed on post #2 of a series in which I examine what it is to be a procrastinator in lockdown. In post #1 I found a delightful chap called Tim Urban on YouTube. He was giving a TED talk about his theory on how the brain of a procrastinator is different to that of a non-procrastinator, and how that difference manifests. I found his description so apposite I went straight to his website and searched for more of his self-confessed procrastinator insights. This post is about what I found there, and how I hope to use it to beat my lockdown lethargy.

Initially* I found two posts on procrastination. The first explains what it is** in much the same way as his TED talk, so I skimmed that and went to: The Procrastination Matrix. Here Urban uses the Eisenhower Matrix to show how a non-procrastinator with a demonic work ethic gets things done:

Image: Tim Urban

This is what Urban says about the Eisenhower Matrix:

The Eisenhower Matrix places anything you could spend your time doing on two spectrums: one going from the most urgent possible task to the least urgent, the other going from critically important to totally inconsequential—and using these as axes, divides your world into four quadrants.

The matrix was popularized in Stephen Covey’s famous book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and is named after President Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower was well-known for being tremendously productive, which Covey credits to his “first things first” attitude on how to spend your time. And to Eisenhower, the “first things” were always the important ones. He believed you should spend nearly all of your time in Quadrants 1 and 2, and he accomplished this with a simple D-word for each quadrant.

Tim Urban

So, Eisenhower’s D words (really D phrases) are: Q1, ‘Do now’; Q2, ‘Decide when to do’; Q3, ‘Delegate away’; Q4, ‘Delete it’. My problem with this is, how does one know which things belong in each quadrant? Anyway, Urban goes on to say all this is great if you’re Eisenhower, but what about us procrastinators, what might a procrastinator’s matrix look like? So he makes one:

Image: Tim Urban

Again, I need to know what goes into each quadrant, that is what does this actually mean?

Urban imagines these quadrants as physical places, Q4, which he calls the Dark Playground, is a place for fun. It’s the Instant Gratification Monkey’s favourite place, here she gets to do the things she finds both easy and fun. These things are neither urgent nor important. For me, at the moment, Q4 is a kitchen where I spend hours poring over recipes for sourdough bread, experiment with baking it, and then search endlessly for things to make with sourdough starter discard. I have jars of the stuff in my fridge! My monkey has managed to convince my Rational Decision Maker that this kitchen is where I need to spend all my time. That perfecting sourdough will make a huge and lasting positive difference to my life, because The Husband loves bread but is diabetic, and she read somewhere that fermented bread is much easier to digest and less harmful than standard bread. That it may, indeed, actually be good for him. Even people with wheat intolerance problems can eat sourdough, she’s heard. Add to that the fact we live miles from the nearest place one can buy such bread, and wham, my RDM feels she really is doing something worthwhile. Perfecting sourdough has become both urgent and important, it belongs in Q1! This is an illusion, however, and we are firmly in Q4 where the monkey is idly polishing her swish new digital scales and flicking through the pages of her latest acquisition:

But making great sourdough is both an art and a science, and it’s not easy to get right: I can feel the Monkey beginning to tire of it already, it takes two days to make and if the loaf that’s currently proving in the fridge doesn’t turn out just like the bread we get from The Earth’s Crust Bakery, I fear all those jars of starter will die like so many Tamagotchis.

Image: Elite Daily

Q1 is the place where the Important and Urgent lie. As far as I can see Urban doesn’t give this place a name, so I’m going to call mine The Desk. In this current situation the only things I find there are related to the pandemic: the death rate; the R number; lockdown rules, and how everyone seems to be flouting them. I think this is partly because the Monkey refuses to let my inner RDM (I think I need to give RDM a name, let’s call her Radison) go anywhere near my various inboxes, thus concealing the existence of all potential Disappointees (those people who may be relying on me to do something); partly because there is a predator out there actively trying to kill us; and partly because, well, who knows? 

Q3, where the neither urgent nor important lie, is where all those jars of fermenting grain mixes reside. I’ll call it The Dark Cupboard. My Panic Monster, Patrice, occasionally wakes and drags Radison and Ingmar (the monkey’s new name) in there, but they both reel back in horror once they realise they’re going to have to pick one, feed it, and wait another twelve hours, at least, before turning it into Cinnamon Buns. So now we get to Q2: Important, but not urgent. What could possibly lie in there?

Urban answers this question nicely. He says:

the road to the procrastinator’s dreams—the road to expanding his horizons, exploring his true potential, and achieving work he’s truly proud of—runs directly through Quadrant 2. Q1 and Q3 may be where people survive, but Q2 is where people thrive, grow, and blossom.

Tim Urban, The Procrastinator’s Matrix

Q2 is the place where one needs to go to ‘thrive, grow, and blossom’ (I’ll call mine The Studio), in other words it’s at the peak of Maslow’s pyramid: ‘self actualisation.’ It’s where you find yourself when all your other needs have been met, and you are free to, as Nietzsche put it, ‘become yourself.’ It’s a great place, but it’s also the place of very hard work. Spending time there can be super frustrating.

I wonder if the pandemic has knocked me back down to ‘deficiency needs’ so I’m back in survival mode?*** Let’s look at Maslow’s pyramid again (I’ve used it before here):

The lower half of the pyramid shows the needs we have to meet in order to stay alive. Until one is comfortable that these needs are covered and always will be, all efforts will focus on them. No one can grow to their full potential if they don’t feel safe.

In order to spend time in The Studio, where I can ‘thrive, grow, and blossom,’ I need to secure its boundaries.

Before lockdown I spent many happy hours there. Every morning I would study grammar in depth, then I’d use what I’d learnt to analyse how my favourite writers did what they did. My focus was on Kafka and Salinger because of the way they are able to build tension very slowly and subtly, and somehow be both serious and funny. I write about very boring, domestic situations, so I need to find ways to make them compelling. I’m not interested in conventional notions of drama, no one storms out of rooms or throws up their hands and wails in my stories. I tend to focus on small, incremental, internal breakdowns and mundane activities, such as buying take-out coffee, or plumping cushions. There are no murders, or obvious monsters, there’s only ordinary life. And there’s nothing I can do about that. I’ve tried, believe me. But I could no more write a thriller than I could give Arnold Schwarzenegger a piggy back. So studying how sentences work, and trying to apply that felt like a reasonable use of my time. My Matrix looked something like this:

But since the pandemic hit I’ve struggled to pick up my big girls book of grammar. 

It’s possible the crisis has knocked me back down the pyramid  all the way to ‘belonging and love needs’ and below. So I focus on The Husband, and food, and exercise. As well as all that baking I’ve been walking for a good three hours a day while listening to Pink Floyd, Radiohead, and various podcasts. I walk in the early morning, the time I used to spend in The Studio I now spend out in the countryside. My current Matrix looks like this:

I need to find a way to beat this. In my next post I examine Urban’s theory of how to beat procrastination, and attempt to apply it to myself in a way that will help me get back to The Studio of Q2 where blossoming lies. 

Note: I feel I need to tell you that I started to write this post about two and a half weeks ago, got distracted, then came back to it the day before I meant to publish it. I then realised I’d got my Pre-Lockdown Matrix totally wrong, started to make a new one, spent hours trying to get the colours right and, inexplicably decided to stop and completely rearrange my workroom. I returned to it just before bedtime and finished making the matrixes which highlighted the gaps in the narrative. I haven’t managed to fill those gaps, but have decided to share the post anyway as evidence of how far I’ve fallen. I hope to do better next time

*I’ve since found another, which I’ll look at next time.
**Procrastination is the, often, crippling inability to act to achieve the things that are important to/for you, when no one is cracking a whip.
***I also wonder if it’s merely given me the opportunity to shirk my responsibilities to myself? I hope to look at that in the next post…


11 thoughts on “Lockdown Lethargy #2: What’s Going On?

  1. Oh Eryl! I don’t know what to say! For starters, you have found contentment in the kitchen, making bread etc. You have also enjoyed exploring the countryside. Maybe you just don’t want to write right now. That’s fine.
    I reckon you should try to write another dramatic piece – not a whole story, but a sort paragraph. Just let go and see where it goes. I reckon you would have a good yell at your inner procrastinator if you came face to face.


    1. I think I’m just using lockdown as an excuse to faff. I’m perfectly content, most of the time, but I know I’ll be really pissed off if I don’t finish my book. I’m like an obese person who keeps putting off his/her diet, yet complains about being fat. X


  2. Procrastination is not terrible in every situation. Jumping the gun can often be a problem. I tend toward procrastination and believe in thinking through my options. Yeah there are some “rules” of life but I don’t believe procrastination should be in any rule book.
    Hey thanks for sharing the slang, faffing about. Another new one for me. I’m so glad the Brits blog.
    Keep pondering maybe there’s a secret to uncover.


    1. I agree with you, procrastination is often just taking the time to think things through properly, but I seem to tend towards ignoring the things that matter at times. Maybe I’m just not ready to finish the book, or maybe I need a kick up the jacksie (more slang for you!).


  3. That’s really interesting. Funny how sourdough thrives on corona worries. My landlady’s started making it too, and delicious it is.

    A good tip I got about procrastination once is that if you achieve acceptable results *by* (or despite) procrastinating, then enjoy the free time work-avoidance frees up.

    And your kind of plot-light, in the moment story sounds right up my street


    1. I know so many people who have got into baking since lockdown. I wonder if it’s just difficult enough, yet something you can ultimately control? I used to make sourdough years ago, but gave up when I moved into Dave’s house: this kitchen has never felt kitcheny enough for such things. I have no idea why that suddenly doesn’t matter to me.

      If I have deadlines procrastination isn’t a problem, I feel the project, or whatever, is incubating and hatches when it needs to. But no deadlines means no hatching.


  4. Sweet Mary Sunshine! I realized as I read your post just how much I’ve been floating thru days! I have this routine that varies so little that I don’t even think about what I’m doing, much less what I should be doing or could be doing! I just glanced at the stack next to the sofa and there are 33 (yes, THIRTY-THREE) books, 2 of which I’m currently reading. I think I’ve already read 4 in that stack, but what does it say about my mental capacity that I’m not even sure? Oy very! xoxo


    1. Thirty three books in your stack, golly! Do you keep adding to the pile? Are you addicted to ordering books?
      This is a very strange time in so many ways, it’s like a perfect storm for madness, so an unvarying routine that involves a huge pile of books is not just acceptable, but necessary. xoxox


    1. You delegate everything that’s urgent but not important? I’m beginning to do that, I think. I’ve just resigned from the community council having realised that little we do makes much of a difference, and I’m happy to let others deal with the things that do make some difference. Some of it is important to some people – the doling out of wind farm grants, say – but it was all beginning to feel incredibly petty to me.

      My impression of you is that you have a solid routine to deal with the urgent-important stuff; never bother with anything unimportant, and, therefore, spend all your time in Q2 taking care of what’s really important. X


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