My Eye!

So, I just had eye surgery. Not cataracts, something trickier and scarier. I will spare you the details except to note that the surgery is called a “vitrectomy.” Those who want to look up the icky details are welcome to.

It took almost a year from my initial diagnosis to get my surgery—and not so coincidentally, my productivity has also been weak over the past year. Like most cases of underproductivity, there were multiple causes:

  • Transitioning from nonfiction to fiction. Transitions are hard.
  • Needing to figure out how to market my latest nonfiction books, Productivity is Power I – for College Students and Productivity is Power II – For Creative & Business Professionals.) I like marketing more than most writers, but there’s no doubt that it’s both tricky and time-consuming—and also a moving target, given how quickly social media evolves.
  • Figuring out how to juggle writing my new novel with the aforesaid marketing. (Sorry, not yet ready to discuss details, except that it’s an ambitious one that requires a lot of research.)
  • Other issues. I’ve successfully crafted a life (and schedule) focused on my writing and a handful of other priorities. And I’m incredibly fortunate, at this stage of my life, to not have many financial worries. (And, of course, to have good health insurance.) But, like everyone else, I’ve got my share of personal issues needing attention.

Perfectionism tells us that we should be able to perform at 100% regardless of our current situation or obstacles, and, to be honest, I do know a handful of people who can just, “keep calm and carry on.” For the rest of us, listing our obstacles to productivity, as I’ve just done, is a foundational productivity technique. It’s the first step to problem-solving and the re-empowerment that’s the solution to both perfectionism and procrastination. (Please note that my list is very short: most people come in at between twenty and forty obstacles. It’s short partly because of luck, but also because I’ve worked strenuously over the years to structure and simplify my life so that it supports my priorities. Regardless of the length of your obstacle list, the next thing you want to do is work to resolve, or at least minimize, the obstacles, while skipping the shame, blame, and guilt entirely.)

Okay, back to my eye. As mentioned, it took a year to schedule the surgery—a difficult period, both because losing your vision is scary, and also because eye surgery is icky and scary in a way that, say, elbow surgery isn’t. (No offense to elbows.) It was a full year of fear and apprehension! Still, I thought I had it all under control, and so I wasn’t prepared for the enormous relief I felt after the surgery. I walked out of the recovery room with a giant bandage on my eye, but feeling like a champ and ready to take on the world.

I also wasn’t prepared for the way my productivity came zooming back, post-surgery. It’s now been three weeks of working on my novel for six hours a day (four for writing, two for research), plus a couple of hours spent marketing the Productivity is Power books.

To sum up:

  • Procrastination is always caused, and the cause is always outside ourselves: in our context/situation, our history, or in the project itself. That’s why, in classes, I can take self-described “blocked” people and have them writing prolifically within a few minutes: I create a context that helps them do that. (And show them how they can do it for themselves afterwards.)
  • Problems, worries, and other obstacles often weigh on us more than we realize. Or, put another way: our obstacles are often bigger than they seem. (And, of course, they all add up.)
  • Perfectionism never helps. It doesn’t care at all about context or history, and offers only one ineffective solution—“Work harder!!!”—with a whole lot of harsh self-talk and negative labeling and deprivation to back it up.
  • Problem-solving, a.k.a. re-empowerment, is the antidote to perfectionism and procrastination, and the key to reclaiming your joyful productivity.

One final note: if you have a serious medical condition, it’s worth it to drive a few hours to get top-quality care. I had my surgery done at the University of Michigan’s Kellogg Eye Center, which is two hours away from Kalamazoo. (And my pre- and post-op exams are done at a different location that’s three hours away.) Although the travel was a hassle, and the wait to get the surgery excruciating, when it finally happened, everything went incredibly well. Three weeks after surgery my eyesight continues to improve, and I’m so grateful to all the doctors, nurses, technicians, and others who restored my sight.

It is now my pleasure to leave you with this:

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