The Dark Playground
The ‘dark playground’ is a term used to describe the behaviour of procrastinators. Instead of doing the task, they do some instant gratification activity instead. Instant gratification may be pleasurable but hollow and filled with guilt. Because the procrastinator knows they are choosing to play instead of work, it feels empty.
I spend a lot of time in the dark playground.
Once I start working, it’s a lot harder for me to wander off to the dark playground, but if conditions aren’t perfect, I find it real easy to never start. As soon as I’m tired, stressed, or fearful that the work may not turn out well, I’m out. I usually play some mindless computer game that requires a lot of repetition. Maybe listening to a podcast so I can veil my procrastination in a pretence that I’m learning something, so it’s not wasted time.
I never have this same problem with Crappy Night Job. I go and work. It’s not like I have the best work ethic in the world, but I consistently plod through the work, which is largely self-directed because I’m usually on my own. Then I come home and sit at my desk to try to write something creative, and I slip straight over to the dark playground instead.
The traditional advice for procrastinators is to decide on a specific task and then break it down into manageable chunks. Create a specific time to work and prioritise it. You can also set deadlines or even punishments for not completing tasks. Maybe write out some notes on post-it notes to remind you to stay on task. Create a prework pattern that will train your brain to prepare for work. Try buying a uniform for working at home to trick your brain into thinking it’s work time.
I have talked about these things in previous blogs, on my path to being more disciplined. But it turns out they all have in common that you need discipline to maintain them. And you’re not allowed to lie, and being honest with yourself requires discipline.
I think I have enough data to say that any of these strategies don’t help my specific procrastination. My problem is that I’m not usually making a deliberate choice to trundle into the dark playground. I don’t consciously think: “I’m going to spend a bunch of time getting nothing done.” Instead, I’m tired, sore, or grumpy, so Resistance tells me I’ll feel better if I have a break. And then that break takes all day.
I’ve tried to remove temptation in the past, another common piece of advice, and delete all games. But then I just find new games. No games? Maybe I’ll practice my terrible guitar or go draw. Definitely not sit at the desk and do the work.
Most of these strategies try to stop you from going into the dark playground. What I need more than any of them is a way out of the playground once I’m in it. I may not notice I walked in, but I usually do notice that I’m there; then, I choose to stay.
The question I need to ask myself is, “Am I in the Dark Playground?” If the answer is yes, then I need to get out of there.