Why TASK AVOIDANCE is not avoiding a task

For the record, this is not even messy.

For the record, this is not even messy.

We all know that TASK AVOIDANCE is the prime directive of all Lichtenbergians, but there is a shocking amount of cras-shaming going on out there. I subscribe to a daily email, a potty-mouthed thing called F***ing Homepage, a listicle kind of thing with books, people, websites, videos, etc. A significant number of their recommendations involve books like these, and despite a couple of replies in which I point out there might be other options, even contrarian ones that should appeal to them, they have yet to realize the error of their ways.

So today I would like to give you some insight on one of the most common forms of “procrastination,” if you insist on calling it that: cleaning your study/studio/workspace.

First of all, no one demands that your workspace be tidy. It’s completely unnecessary. I will note that someone, probably Austin Kleon, is not wrong in suggesting that you keep your materials messy but your tools organized, but you and I both know that if you’ve been at work at all, the space is going to look like a disaster area at some point.

Cleaning your study after a major project is ABANDONED is a good idea, of course. It’s like a reset button during what I call the “turning of the tide,” or occasionally the “refractory period.” Clear the decks and start over. Tabula rasa: sure, it could happen.

The idea I’m promoting today is that cleaning your workspace during a project is also beneficial in exactly those ways that TASK AVOIDANCE is meant to be.

Here’s how it works:

  • You’re in the middle of a project. It is not going well.

  • Somehow, while you’ve been concentrating on the project, mysterious piles of things have agglomerated all around you.

  • Your brain/soul/hands, seeking exit, finding none, and the spectators where are they? </Beckett quote> decides it cannot even any more with ALL THIS MESS.

  • Slowly it rises to the level of a conscious decision: I MUST CLEAN ALL THIS UP.

And here’s the miracle: As you tidy up, toss stuff out, put stuff away, arrange the detritus in piles, your brain/soul/hands is working the entire time. Faced now with actual action, your subconscious wants nothing more than to get back to work.

Don’t do it. Continue cleaning up.

Force your brain/soul/hands to process all the ideas that wouldn’t come while you were paying attention to the project. Jot down notes in your WASTE BOOK if you need to, but don’t get back to work.

Finally, when everything is clear again, take up your keyboard/brush/pen again. Now you know what to do.

You’re welcome. Those jerks who believe that they’re wasting time by procrastinating—they can continue to beat their brain/soul/hands against the wall of HARD WORK. You and I know better.