Monday, February 25, 2013

Why it Might be Okay Put Off Until Tomorrow What You Can Do Today

*See note below

Hi, my name is Erin, and I'm a procrastinator.

I am ashamed to say how long it has taken me to finish writing this. Maybe you'll get a rough an idea if I tell you that there were a slew of visits to Facebook friends, about a thousand games of Words with Friends and Bejeweled and quite a nice little while  making an Etsy treasury.   Then there were the untold hours poring over Brain Pickings (watched this amazing video about physicist Richard Feynman three times), Shutterbean (excellent recipe for quick cheese bread that I will probably go and bake instead of finishing this post),  Smitten Kitchen (great recipe for lemon bars), and various other websites devoted to thought, food, and life in general.  All while this sat in the post queue, unfinished, unpublished and unloved.

Of course, I also dusted, and made the girls' beds, and put together a tuna noodle casserole. You see, I learned to procrastinate in the old days, before the Internet, when you actually had to do something to defer doing something else. 
We're talking days, people, days of putting off finishing a tiny little blog post. 

In my rapacious avoidance of work on something constructive, I foraged the Internet for current philosophical thought about my condition. I clicked links to multiple articles, like this one, and tried to order this book from the library, which would have given me something to do one day next week when I am trying to avoid something I should be doing instead. Of course, the fact that the local library didn't own the book led me to the kind of advanced catalog search that only really skilled procrastinators such as myself could gleefully and guiltily engage in. It was so good in fact, that I put off finishing it until the next time I go to the library.

The bits I read about procrastinating made me feel a little better. There seems to be some thought that putting off a project gives people time to formulate exactly how they will attack it when it becomes absolutely, positively unavoidable. From my own experience as a grad student, I can offer anecdotal evidence that bears this out.  When I finally hit zero hour in the library (usually when a paper is due before ten the next morning) and I have checked and rechecked sources, organized actual paper note cards, read miscellaneous J-Stor links about vaguely related topics, and eaten untoastable toaster pastries from the vending machine on the next floor,  I've found myself suddenly inspired.  I can buckle down and write, knowing that I have no other choice.  Somehow, I know I am ready, and the words don't just flow, they gush.  The downside of this is that it stokes the flame of the "I work well under pressure" myth that burns deep in my heart, so each time I have a writing assignment due, it  takes a bit longer to get to crunch time. 
I made this necklace while I was supposed to
be doing something else.  Of course, I did
something else while I was supposed to
be finishing it. 

This burst of "readiness" leads me to the thought that procrastination can be an odd form of perfectionism.  I start things, not just writing assignments, but jewelry projects, organizing tasks, and all kinds of applications and other paperwork, with a burst of optimistic energy and a shining vision of the completed work.  As I get into it, doubt creeps in. I have a need to reassess and be certain that I am taking the right approach.  That's when I start dusting or web-surfing or eating whatever I can readily obtain.  I turn the project over in my subconscious mind, tinkering and perfecting it somewhere in my brain's crowded and unimproved basement workshop.  A looming deadline, even a self imposed one, like "this must be done before the kids get home," hustles me out of workshop mode and into action.  Confidence is somehow renewed, because all I can do now is finish.   I must have it right.  It's procrastination magic!
Doesn't that put a positive spin on what appears to be slothful time wasting?  Yeah, I wasn't convinced either, until I thought about  about all that  stuff I get done while I'm not finishing a project.    Usually, it is work that I have been putting off, er I mean, perfecting.  Sometimes, it just means that my house gets clean.  By the way, the cheese bread and the lemon bars were excellent.

That is the circle of the procrastinating life:  eventually, everything gets done. 

*Image from militant libertarian.  Don't know anything about them, but after spending (gulp) more than an hour looking for just the right image, I decided on this.

1 comment:

  1. And you wonder why it took me so long to finish my homework as a kid...