Procrastination and Common Sense
I am as the American Colonies were in 1775.
I know you all want to know how I could possibly be like the American Colonies were in 1775. “The simile is a stretch,” you think. You are wrong.
It will require a bit of a history lesson, so get out your notebooks and pens and pay attention.
Two hundred thirty-two years ago today, a man in Philadelphia began distributing copies of a pamphlet he had published anonymously at his own expense. The man, known as Tom Paine to his friends, had emigrated to the colony in America from England only two years before.
By the time he fortuitously met Benjamin Franklin in 1774, Paine had so far failed at everything he had ever done in life. He failed out of school at the age of twelve. By 19 he had failed at his apprenticeship to his father, a corset maker, and had gone to sea. He failed at that and returned to land work for the British government as a tax collector. By the time he was 32 he had been fired twice from that job, the second time because he agitated for higher wages, inciting others with his essays and leaflets to demand more money.
Once in Philadelphia, Paine began writing essays and contributing to a local magazine. He was a popular writer, and was widely read. He became a success.
Philadelphia’s air was full of anger and resentment against England when Paine arrived. The colonists in America felt that England was abusive towards them and despaired of Parliament even granting them self rule. Ten years before Parliament had reined in the quasi-independence that had previously existed for the colonies on the other side of the Atlantic. In repealing the Stamp Act, which was despised by the colonists, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act of 1766, and claimed for itself the “right… power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America…in all cases whatsoever.” Successively more restrictive laws were passed, and rebellion was imminent as 1775 turned into 1776.
For some reason, though, there had not been a formal rebellion against England in the colonies. As angry as the colonists were, they didn’t rise up and take arms against their English overlords. There were skirmishes here and there, and demonstrations and the like, but no organized, armed rebellion. We look back on it today and wonder, “What were they waiting for?” It’s hard to see why they wouldn’t take action.
Paine believed he knew how to package the idea of an armed rebellion so it would be more palatable to the colonists who might be sitting of the fence when it came to the issue of separation from England. He thought he had a way of convincing them to get off their dead asses and rebel. He had a way to stop them from procrastinating any longer.
And now we come to how I am like the colonies.
Hello. My name is Aramink. (Hello, Aramink.)
I am a procrastinator.
I have lousy time management skills. I let things without deadlines linger on my desk, hoping they will go away. They never do.
I am a procrastinator. Like the American colonies in 1775, I am sitting on my dead ass doing nothing (playing on Multiply) when I should be doing something constructive, something like writing, working, paying bills, balancing my checkbook, cleaning out closets, making my bed, taking a nap… well, maybe not taking a nap, but the other things certainly should be done.
The colonists were sitting around, complaining about taxes, about soldiers eating them out of farm and home, and unfair laws, just like I sit around and complain that I’m not getting out and getting things off my desk. Something had to shake up the colonists enough to actually do something about what they enjoyed complaining about so much.
Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, lit the colonies on fire.
The pamphlet appeared January 10, 1776. Over 150,000 copies were sold almost immediately. Through many reprintings throughout 1776, as many as six million pamphlets reached readers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Not only did Paine write the argument that won support for the rebels among farmers and educated businessmen alike, he discussed naval strength and set out a model for the new government of a country called America. He set out a plan of action for the colonies to take so that they could wrest their independence from England. It wasn’t until the third edition of the pamphlet, published February 14, 1776, that he set out this plan, but by the time the plan was proposed, the ideas in the pamphlet had already planted seeds of rebellion in very fertile ground.
Perhaps you’ve never read this famous pamphlet, which is credited with starting the American Revolution. How did Paine stop the colonists’ procrastination and propel them into action? He focused them on the bad guy. He identified King George III as the enemy of the American Colonies and he laid out a plan for getting rid of the yoke the king had clapped on the neck of the colonies with the passage of the Declaratory Act of 1766 and those successively restrictive laws aimed at strangling the autonomy of the colonies in America.
Why did it take ten years, from 1766 to 1776, for the colonists to act?
What stirred the colonists to action? Thomas Paine giving them a target and a plan.
What stirs me into action? Deadlines. When I don’t have one, I get nothing done whatsoever. I have no Thomas Paine to stir my passions into action.
I am a procrastinator.
Yesterday I was talking to Katie about stuff I want to do but haven’t gotten around to doing. I had a laundry list of things. She laughed at me as I added more and more things to the list. “You’re a procrastinator! She declared. I admitted as much. I’ll deny anything until presented with incontrovertible proof. She had the proof.
Then she gave me an assignment.
“This afternoon, do three of these things on your list,” Katie commanded. She was kind enough to specify which three, and I was grateful. “I’m going to check with you later,” she warned.
It was about 2:30 and my eyelids were getting heavy. I had dealt with Book Club drama for two straight days and I was sleepy. I went to take a nap.
I woke up about 5:00 and returned to my computer. Oh yes, I remembered my assignment. I had to make two phone calls and mail something. Those were my tasks. I yawned and poured myself another glass of cranberry juice. Then I got an IM from Doc.
“I understand you were supposed to accomplish three tasks this afternoon,” he said. He had been talking to Katie!
I stammered. I hemmed and hawed. I did those things at least as much as one can possibly do them in an IM conversation.
“Are they done?” Doc asked. I could tell by the tone of the letters he typed that he was about to get serious with me. No, the font didn’t change. I could just tell.
I dialed the phone. I made the first phone call.
“I’ve done one,” I told Doc.
I hung up and dialed the phone again.
“I’ve done two,” I reported.
“You’re tardy on those two,” he advised me sternly, and then noted that I hadn’t done the third one at all.
“But I took a nap!” I whined, hoping for leniency since Doc is known to be fond of naps himself.
No luck. He remained stern and even got Katie into an IM conference with us.
Katie pronounced punishment. “You have to do what you didn’t do, and you have to write a blog about procrastination,” she decided.
“But I have another blog planned for tomorrow,” I protested, thinking about how I hadn’t finished my blog about Thomas Paine and his pamphlet, Common Sense.
“You must post your procrastination blog by 6 p.m. tomorrow,” Katie commanded.
Katie is a formidable mistress. I felt like a naughty kid. Doc was probably laughing at me, but he was at least pretending to be stern, too.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said meekly.
Guess what happened.
I didn’t get my Common Sense blog written last night, so it wasn’t ready to be posted this morning. And I had to do this procrastination blog, too. Today is the anniversary of the publication of Common Sense, so I really need to post that blog today, but Mistress Katie says I have to post the procrastination blog today, too.
That’s why I am comparing my procrastination with the inaction of the American colonies prior to the publication of Common Sense.
Thomas Paine set out a plan for rebellion and independence, and Katie told me I have to set out a plan to eliminate procrastination from my life.
These parallels between me and the American colonies are just downright uncanny, aren’t they?
Here’s my plan:
- I will read my email first thing in the morning and respond to it all.
- I will write the rest of the morning, unless Jane is here, and in that case I will write unless Jane has other work for me to do.
- I will break for lunch and actually eat somewhere other than over my keyboard.
- I will check my email immediately after lunch and respond to it all.
- I will run errands and get other things done as my list dictates (see below).
- I will read and write some more, as time permits.
- I will make tomorrow’s list by 5:00 every day.
- I will then allow myself to play online.
It may not be as good a plan as Thomas Paine’s was for rebellion, but it will probably help me to stop procrastinating.
I wonder if I should sign out of Messenger, too. I mean, I’m normally invisible, but I’m always here. If I hadn’t been on Messenger before 5:00, Katie might never have given me that assignment in the first place, and I might not have had to figure out how to combine a blog on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and procrastination.
It’s worth considering.
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