Procrastination as a way of life
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been running behind.
It all started when I was sent to readiness — an extra grade between kindergarten and first grade. Officially, I ended up in readiness because I was socially withdrawn and had poor motor skills; unofficially, because I was young for my age. While my better-adjusted peers from kindergarten went marching off to first grade, I joined the immature kids who had trouble tying their shoes and remembering their phone numbers.
I spent the next several years trying to get to where I thought I should be.
My reading and writing skills were quite good; my penmanship and coloring, not so much. So I spent a great deal of time learning to color within lines, instead of just scribbling wildly all over the place, and to write neatly. After spending second grade in a lower-performing math group, I acquired flashcards and got my mom to teach me the multiplication tables over the summer. I vowed never to be assigned to a lower-performing math group again.
And I wasn’t.
But this gradual transformation into a good student was accompanied by the development of a bad habit: procrastination.
When I fell behind, it wasn’t because I was struggling to master my work, but because I had chosen not to do it until the last possible second. Occasionally, my tendency to push deadlines as far as I could got me into trouble. But as the years passed, I became pretty adept at gauging just how long I could avoid doing something and still get everything done.
Occasionally, someone would suggest that there was another way to do things — a saner and healthier way.
My college newspaper staff was filled with procratinators and occasionally our managing editor, my friend Julianne, would lecture us on time management. “If you guys would get more of your work done earlier in the week, you wouldn’t have to do as much work on Thursday,” she would tell us, and we would nod, because she was right. “You could get some sleep and you’d be more productive as a result.”
But Julianne’s reform effort ultimately proved futile, perhaps because journalism, with its constant deadlines and quick pace, is something of a haven for procrastinators, who are accustomed to completing projects and tasks as the clock expires.
My procrastination wasn’t particularly noteworthy on the college newspaper staff, where master procrastinators such as my friend Nachie put me to shame, though occasionally I would return to my dorm room and marvel at my roommate’s good study habits and early bedtime.
So far, 2013 has been a banner year for procrastination.
I’ve been running behind constantly, struggling to do chores and errands I should have done weeks, if not months, earlier.
When my eyeglasses broke last fall, I decided to put off getting new ones and tap into my nearly three-month supply of contact lenses. My mother warned me that this vast stock would soon dwindle, but I was unconcerned, blithely assuring her that I would get new glasses before my contacts ran out. Shortly before Christmas, I noticed that my contact supply was getting low, but the observation didn’t spark any real sense of urgency. Until about two weeks later, when it suddenly dawned on me that if I didn’t get my act together, I risked not being able to see.
Faced with this alarming possibility, I hurriedly placed orders for both glasses and contact lenses, and though both items have since arrived, I spent two or three days stressing over the prospect of telling my boss that I couldn’t work because of an unnecessary and completely preventable bout of blindness.
Around the time I went into a panic over my lack of glasses, I also realized that I had run out of checks.
Which didn’t come as a total surprise, as I’d noticed that I was near the end of my checkbook about a month earlier and had simply failed to do anything about it. I placed an order, and a new supply of checks eventually arrived, though not before I was forced to pay one of my bills in cash.
The month of January concluded with a reminder of just how bad my procrastination has gotten.
On Thursday, I delivered my Subaru to my mechanic, just 24 hours before the inspection sticker was set to expire. As I drove up the hill, I couldn’t help but think how much easier my week would have been if I had just taken care of this annoying chore earlier, when I wasn’t so busy.
I felt weary all of a sudden — tired of running behind. After all, wouldn’t life feel a little calmer if I wasn’t constantly putting out fires of my own making?
I don’t always procrastinate.
If last month contained any silver lining, it lay in the knowledge that I had obtained a residential parking permit way back in December.
When electronic message boards appeared in my Albany neighborhood in early January, warning me and my neighbors that a parking permit system was set to go into effect, I gave myself a pat on the back. And when I heard about the long lines of people in need of permits at City Hall, I felt downright smug. By getting my permit early, I had avoided this late rush to comply with the new law.
“No long lines for me!” I wanted to shout. “I already have my permit!”
My mother expressed shock when I informed her of my uncharacteristic lack of procrastination.
“That doesn’t sound like you,” she said.
“I know,” I said, proudly.
But it didn’t take long to revert to my old habits.
I mean, it’s not like I finished this column early, or filed my stories early or paid my bills early.
Though I can see how having done just one of those things would have improved my current mood immeasurably.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.