Procrastinating my way through unemployment

The game that will make your hand fall off and then mock you for being dumber than your friends.

The game that will make your hand fall off and then mock you for being dumber than your friends.

I just passed the 5-month marker on my road through unemployment (and this unemployment blog, for that matter). And what a wondrous journey it’s been; the places I’ve gone and the things I’ve seen will be with me always and forever. To be more precise, unemployment is a seemingly endless series of very short, circular journeys – from my bed, to the dining room table (my workspace), to the couch (my other workspace) and back to bed. The surroundings don’t change. The creatures I encounter don’t change (unless shedding fur counts). Nothing changes, except the temperature in my apartment, which can go from 50 to 90 degrees in a few hours. It’s like a localized “Groundhog Day” with two cats cast as the quirky townsfolk. But I continue on in hopes that one day it will change.

I get a lot done on an average day, enough to feel productive but not satisfied. My expanding to-do list is one reason. Procrastination is another. We all need a distraction from our daily rigors, right? A problem arises when that distraction starts to take over the day.

I’ve been honing my procrastination skills these last few months. It’s not a resume builder or the ideal response to the “What is your biggest weakness?” question. But it is most definitely a talent and an art, requiring effort and good old-fashion sticktoitiveness. There are a lot of hours in the day to fill with useless activities. You have to be dedicated. You have to want it.

In the early stages of unemployment I was addicted to the Facebook game, Pathwords. The object is pretty basic… get points by forming words from random letters laid out on a grid. Successive letters must be touching, and the same tile can’t be used twice in a word. Longer words score more points.

Playing started out as a quick diversion between projects. But I soon noticed that all my friends were outscoring me. This was a big problem. I had to step up my game, go hard or go home. A couple rounds here and there became 20 or 30. A higher score was critical. Wifey eventually put up an insane and virtually unbeatable number of points (at least for me). Then a friend of mine beat it (bastard, you know who you are). I was clearly out of my league. My goal changed from first on the leaderboard to just on the leaderboard. And my efforts got me a mild case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. No score on any game is worth that, so I quit Pathwords cold turkey. The ability to pick up things with my hands is a little more important.

Shortly before Yahoo! layoff rumors started grabbing headlines, I defected over to iGoogle. (Coincidence… I’m not so sure.) Tetris was one of the handy gadgets available for my homepage. I positioned it at the bottom – close to “Yo Mamma Jokes” – to avoid too much distraction from my daily tasks. It didn’t matter. Tetris became my new distraction of choice. I sometimes play it before checking the news or weather. Turns out fitting together geometric shapes is just as addictive now as it was back in college. And these days I can waste my most awake and productive hours in color, not the green and black of that old Mac SE. The game hasn’t become a real problem… yet. The wonkiness of my computer manages to kill much of the pleasure; old technology works in my favor for once. We’ll see what happens. Tomorrow is another unemployed day, with a lot of things not to do.

Twitter is another new distraction for me, late adopter that I am. The constant stream of information is way too much to process, let alone enjoy or care about. But the site – nevermind the concept and related services – is pretty damn cool. And occasionally something useful comes my way, like this link to Twitter’s job search page. Look everyone, I can be productive and social at the same time, at least within the confines of the internet. Advertisers or the inanity of it all will wear me down soon enough. Until that happens, I’ll continue to Twitter my unemployed life away.

TV channel flipping – the granddaddy of all procrastination options – predates this computer mumbojumbo, at least for me, and seems to be holding its own. A thumb pressing a button is time wasting boiled down to its essence, one step away from complete and total inactivity. I manage to limit most of my viewing to the late-night/early-morning hours through sheer force of will. Once the TV goes on and the flipping inevitably begins, there’s rarely anything on that holds my interest for more than a few minutes. I just flip and flip and flip, channel 1, 2, 3 through about 150 and then back to 1. This procrastinating is more to avoid (or because I can’t) sleep, not work. Maybe, on some level, I’m fending off another day of unemployment. Because another day of the same will be just a little harder to take.

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  1. fern wrote:

    I’ve been laid off probably 5 times during a nearly 30-year career, so i can relate to things you say in your blog and you actually make reading about it all…entertaining.

    Hang in there, you’ll work again.

    Friday, April 3, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Permalink
  2. Patte Shambaugh wrote:

    I have become an excellent time waster and I spend my days reading crazy blogs and playing computer games. I use these games to assess my biorhythms for the day. So, for instance, if I score over 6000 playing Solitaire my physiological well-being is pretty good. Over 7000 is an excellent day. Then I play Sodoku on Miniclip and if I finish the easy one in less than 5 minutes, then I’m having a good intellectual day. (Don’t judge me. Everyone has to establish their own goals.)

    Anyway, thank you Norm – I’m starting to enjoy myself and to figure out how long I can survive on unemployment. The process of simplifying my life could be a very spiritual journey and probably will take a lot of my time.

    Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  3. Norm wrote:

    It sounds like your procrastination involves actual thinking, which is productive in its own right. It keeps you mentally sharp. Achieving the goals I set for myself in a day always puts me in a good mood. And good moods during unemployment can be hard to come by sometimes. Good luck.

    Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Permalink
  4. thomas wrote:

    Just entered 5th month of unemployment.Depression starting to kick in big time with all the doom and gloom.Very hard to concentrate on things and keep cheerful.

    Monday, April 6, 2009 at 5:53 am | Permalink
  5. Kevin wrote:

    I have been teaching myself how to program in Python. Was laid off in November. Also learning RoR and JavaScript. Why? Don’t know, but got bored out of my gourd playing with all my belly lint.

    Friday, April 10, 2009 at 8:08 am | Permalink