I just read a Newsweek story about procrastination. I’m serious—I just read it, and here I am, responding! All jokes aside, it was interesting to me because I’m a procrastinator—I always have been. In college, we did an exercise to learn more about our working styles. We had to line up on a continuum, between signs that read “I can play whenever I want” and something like “I always study first, then play.” I say “something like” because I was so far away from that sign I could barely read it. In fact, I was directly under the “I can play whenever I want” sign, and they let me take it home afterward to hang in my room. Not because I’m irresponsible; I did well in school and really enjoyed it. But because I truly work best when it comes down to the wire. (I just looked that up: it has to do with winning a race by crossing the wire.) I was forever trying to convince my roommates, whom I considered too studious and hopelessly dedicated, to put off their work and come play with me. In fact, I think they just had different working styles—they worked well by handling tasks methodically and pacing them out evenly to fill the allotted time. I once had a week in which I had six papers due. (I have to let my editorial “we” butt in here and tell you that my eyeballs are twitching off to the side, looking for something to do in the middle of writing this post. There are so many options! Check my work e-mail. Check my personal e-mail. Wash out the Tupperware that held my lunch salad. I’m going to try to finish in one fell swoop…) (Which comes from Shakespeare and points to a hunting bird’s ruthless and deadly attack: “fell” is from the same root as “felon.”)
Oh, dear. I didn’t even realize, when I went to look that up..!
Anyway, I work best under pressure. Alternatively, you could say that I can’t force myself to work unless I’m under pressure. Let me get back to that story: I had six papers due in a week. One each day, except that I had two due one of the days. I didn’t start any of them until Sunday night, at which point I had doomed myself to writing one (or two) per night, all week. And I’m awful when I don’t get enough sleep. Poor roommates!
Not that I’m saying it’s a good idea to do that. But I’ve always noticed that more vocabulary comes to mind when I’m under pressure. So I’ve always liked tests. However, when kids like me grow up, they have to get jobs, and jobs like mine tend not to have very solid deadlines. How do I get any work done? Sometimes I find myself preparing for a meeting at the last minute and then not presenting myself all that well at the meeting. And I’m more likely to procrastinate on hard tasks, like turning down a book proposal. Luckily, at my new job I have Microsoft Outlook as an e-mail program. I’ve been entering “Tasks” and “Calendar” items since I started, and it really works well! If you don’t do a task on the day you assign to it, it turns red and taunts you daily until you can’t stand it anymore and do it. You can also set it to remind you to do stuff by flashing an annoying box over whatever you’re working on at a prescribed time. I’ve been really good about not leaving stuff on my desk too long since starting with Outlook. That directly agrees with the Newsweek article, which tells us that people tend to procrastinate more on vague, broad-ranging ideas than on specific actions. So assigning myself a date to make a decision turns a vague “yes or no” into a specific task.
I still put most tasks off till the last minute. I work on the church newsletter on Sunday night, right before it’s due for proofreading on Monday. I just finished writing our Christmas letter, which still needs to be printed, signed, folded, stamped, and mailed. (It’s December 17!) We haven’t sent our packages yet. (The post office, via the TV, tells us we have until Saturday, and it’s only Wednesday…)
Oh, did you notice that I said “we”? Dave used to ask me to wake him up in the middle of the night to do his homework, due the next day. It sounds like a joke: What happens when two procrastinators get married? Answer: nothing.
Here’s the Newsweek article, if you want to read it: http://www.newsweek.com/id/173335