It's winter-time. I am ten years old. My new school supplies aren't new anymore. My backpack has footprints on it, and frayed papers stick every which way out of my binder. Cold winds twist and wail outside the classroom window. It's dark by the time I get home from school.

I have too much homework. I can't even start.

My papers are too messy. I can't even look.

Suddenly, it's Sunday afternoon, everything is due tomorrow morning, and there is no longer any escape.

I know! I'll convince my parents to home-school me…

Hard as it was for me to foresee this when I was ten years old, I eventually grew up.

I know this is true because I no longer calculate the possibility of getting a Slurpee every time I pass a 7-11. What a betrayal of my child self! I can feel her looking at me with disdain.

I want to reassure her: I LIKE being an adult. It isn't boring, really! I LIKE green tea and dense, non-fiction books. I don't LIKE Slurpees.

And adulthood is liberating. My social life is uncomplicated; I can be friends with anyone. Nobody can make me do anything I don't want to do. I can even buy a plane ticket to California any time I want.

And yet, there are times…

I work at home as an editor, and I frequently find myself faced with to-do lists like this: Proofread these fifty pages of fine print. Turn this crazed rant into a reasonable sounding article. Scour this nine-page PDF and type up a list of mistakes. Do it all before the deadline, which is in fourteen minutes.

I spend hours chained to my computer, in a mixed state of anxiety and elated accomplishment. There are the times when I work efficiently and the world falls away. I am a verbal gymnast, bursting with job satisfaction.

And then there are times when I feel exactly like I'm back in the winter of fifth grade, facing a mountain of homework which I CANNOT do.

So I resort to fifth-grade behavior. I procrastinate. Only this time around, I am way more sophisticated. These are some of my best procrastination strategies:

Strategy #1: Check email before working. This is brilliant because nobody can tell the difference between emailing and working, not even me. In eighteenth century literature, writing letters is all women did, and here I am, getting at it first thing in the morning.

Strategy #2: Keep a finely-tuned antenna out for emergencies. They do seem to crop up, the minute the real work rears its ugly head. The vague plan that I dreamt up last week, to go to Trader Joe's and get gluten-free pancake mix, wasn't an emergency then. Suddenly, today, with deadlines looming, I sense the need to go right now.

Strategy #3: Use more than one email address. This way, strategy #1 can be employed more than once. And after checking my secondary email address, I can go back and check my primary one.

Strategy #4: Empty all the wastebaskets in the house. Sometimes, they are already empty. Still, I check, whistling tunelessly as I flit hither and thither (who can concentrate on real work when the wastebaskets are full?). I am like a really efficient butterfly.

Strategy #5: See #3. Actually, I have more than two email addresses. I have about five. I check my email the way other people play piano.

Strategy #6: Do OTHER work. Any other work, as long as it is not the work that I am busy not doing. I employed this strategy yesterday. I completed a task a week early that I usually complete, with genuine regret, only at the very last minute. My productivity earned me this email back from my overling. (He's kind of my boss, but he never bosses me around. He's nice that way.)

Overling: Are you feeling okay?

Me: You don't understand. There is something else I have to do, and it is MUCH, MUCH harder. I am procrastinating productively.

Overling: Oh, you have no idea how much I understand! That EXACTLY describes my way of working!

Me: Oh, great! I'll start a Facebook group. It's clearly necessary. I'll do it right now.

I am truly a master. I look exactly like a person who is getting important things done.

Sometimes, especially when it's late in the day and I have been rearranging wastebaskets for hours, I stop and think. "On second thought, editing isn't such a good profession for me. I think essentially I am built to do something active. Maybe I should take up dog walking?"

Between this and that, the end of the day comes, and the pit in the stomach, and the "morgen vet zein gor andersh" which is starting to lose its credibility.

Until recently, I thought I was doomed to this cycle. I even started considering that maybe my disappointed ten-year-old self was right, and I am doing this adulthood thing all wrong, trying to be all-responsible. I should just give it up, conduct a victory dance (because I have finished school), and eat pizza and Slurpees every single day.

Wow. I really AM a master. I have written 933 words without getting to the point.

The point is, I have discovered that THERE IS something I can do to melt the pit in my stomach and bypass procrastination. It may not require interacting with dogs (I forgot; I have a dog phobia), but it does require courage:


Start small, but start.

Just take the first step. It really works.

"Just open your binder," I can imagine myself telling my fifth-grade self, feeling like the confident and soothing adult that I really am. "Look at your papers. Put them in order. It will get easier after that, I promise."

And to my adult self, I say: "Open the document. Spend twenty minutes on it. Now open THAT document, and start that one too." Before I know it, the enormous pile of work in front of me is separating itself into manageable, human-sized portions.

I am not expected to stage a flashy revolution. There is no need to find a new job, or a new life. I just need to do something, right now. There is only one question to answer: What small step in the right direction can I take right now?

On Chanukah, we start with just one light. That is all that is expected of us. Tomorrow, there will be two.