Sleep Deprivation; Procrastination; Relief

It’s been a hell of a couple of weeks. This time last month I averaging at four or five meltdowns each day,  buckling under the weight of a to-do list that would just not stop growing. Overdue college essays; coursework that needed redrafting; short story competitions to enter; job applications to submit and a CV to update; a desk drawer to fix, two more to tidy…

You get the idea. It’s that kind of to-do list that needs an early start, a pot of coffee and a methodical plan of action to tackle, but that’s always much easier said than done. Waking early has never been a problem for  me – my natural waking time is 5am – but when you have such a gargantuan list of work that you can’t fully focus on any one bit of it, all the coffee and early mornings in the world aren’t going to help that.

Things then got even more manic when I was asked to become the new Formula E Editor for the Pit Crew Online. Being a freelancer, I’ve always considered it one of my strengths that I will accept any opportunity offered me without stopping to consider its pros and cons, but taking on this role came very close to proving my philosophy wrong.

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For starters, Formula E is a sport that until very, very recently I knew nothing about. Secondly, I happened to take over the role of editor on the same week that the inaugural Mexico City ePrix was to take place, meaning I had roughly two days between saying yes and writing my first race preview to learn everything there is to know about electric motorsport. I watched old races, read archived interviews, pored over the official technical and sporting regulations… In short, for two days I became a monument of dedication to Formula E, all so that my first piece as editor wouldn’t sound like a complete blag.

And then, just a week later came the Australian Grand Prix, the first round of the 2016 Formula One season. Taking over the FE coverage didn’t mean relinquishing my F1 writing duties, so no sooner had I finished with Mexico City than it was on to Melbourne.

By now I was getting into the swing of writing race previews and session reports, but being the Australian Grand Prix meant there was the added challenge of an eleven-hour time difference to contend with. I know I’ve already boasted of my morning-person credentials, but this was pushing it: my weekend started at one o’clock on Friday morning and didn’t stop until ten o’clock Sunday night. Between waking up on Thursday morning and finally shutting down on Sunday, I think I’d managed about nine hours of sleep. By Monday, my blood was 90% coffee and my brain felt like it had become one with the WiFi.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. How could I? Writing about motorsport is something that I love doing, and even when live-tweeting a rained-off practice session at three in the morning I still get that thrum of excitement like it’s the day before a holiday.

But more importantly, and somewhat ironically, having this sudden crush of extra work actually helped me solve the problem of my insurmountable to-do list. Like everybody I suffer from a weakness for procrastination, and – at least in my case – I think this stems mostly from my fear of failure. I don’t avoid an essay because it’s too hard or a story because I don’t know where it’s going, but rather because I lose confidence in my ability to write it to the standard I want. I write a sentence, think it’s too clunky or too empty or too pretentious, then delete it and do the hoovering instead.

Where writing for the Pit Crew helped was by giving me work that actually needed to be done, and fast. Unlike writing short stories or a novel, there was actually someone beyond myself depending on my work being done; and unlike coursework, the deadlines for my race previews and reports were not so far in the future that I could afford to ignore them. Plus, being factual pieces, they don’t carry the same pressure to be artful as writing fiction does. So long as I got the right names and lap times down, there was very little that could go wrong in writing a simple article on Lewis Hamilton taking pole position.

The knock on effect of all this was that I rediscovered the motivation and self-belief needed to knuckle down and actually get shit done. The essays were toppled in no time, the coursework was flying off the printer, and even the unorganised depths of my bottom desk drawer were met in battle and dispatched.

It turns out that the stab of adrenaline and relief felt when ticking something off your to-do list is actually far greater than the brief escape gained by putting it off. Sounds obvious, I know, but as always it’s much easier to see the way out of a maze from above than within.

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