Living with Procrastination


If any of you get the OnDemand service on Comcast cable, I highly suggest going to “The Cutting Edge” section, and checking out some of the ‘school scare films’ on “Something Weird.” Depending on how old you are, you may have seen some of these films in school growing up. My personal favorite is a variation on the classic “Duck and Cover,” which offers you “lifesaving tips” on how to survive an atomic bomb blast.

My favorite gem from that film: “the instant you hear the air raid sirens, take cover under whatever you can find. A table, a doorway— even a picnic blanket or a newspaper can provide some protection against an atomic blast!” (Here, the film shows a family enjoying a lovely picnic in the park when a bright light flashes and they cover themselves with their lifesaving blanket.)

Yeah, riiiiiiiiiiight.

They rotate the films every couple of weeks or so… so over the past several months I’ve seen other great “how to” films from the 1940’s and 50’s— such as how to make friends (the lesson here: force yourself to be like everyone else— suppress those pesky feelings of individuality….!), the importance of personal hygiene (a film for new recruits in the military— did you know that foot powder can solve a whole slew of problems????), and a 60’s film about the dangers of LSD (which— honestly, was more of an ad for LSD than a scare film…. I don’t think the “squares” back then ‘got it’).

One film I saw recently was about a girl named Mary who was the ultimate procrastinator. She was appointed by her classmates to organize the school dance, much to the chagrin of one boy who said she never did things on time and other students always paid for it. Well, you can guess what happened… Mary failed to let other students’ mothers know days ahead of time which foods they needed to make for the party, she put off buying the decorations until the day before (the local store was out of what she needed), and she showed up late to the decorating party (because she was out looking for other decorations). The last scene shows the other students putting up their measly few rolls of streamers in disgust while Mary sits alone in the corner, obviously realizing that her life was now ruined— all because of her procrastinative ways.

I don’t mean to make light of procrastination. I used to be Mary. When I was in seventh grade I was in an accelerated math course. Instead of making us hand in assignments on a regular basis, the teacher left it up to us to get the work done… and just hand it all in at the end of the semester (I still don’t understand the benefits of this— all of you teachers out there… would you really want a huge pile of papers to grade at the end of the semester?).

Well, since I was Mary— you can guess what happened. I didn’t do my assignments in a regular and timely fashion. I think I started off the semester by getting a half dozen assignments out of the way immediately… then everything else went on the back burner, because according to my seventh grade reasoning I was AHEAD at that point, right? If I could complete six assignments in one sitting, surely the rest would be a breeze.

:p

The NIGHT before the assignments were due, I decided to tackle the other— oh, 40-50 assignments I had for the rest of the semester. I was up all night. And my mother had very little sympathy for me the next day (shocker!) when I begged to be able to go in and turn in my assignments and then come home to sleep.

The good news is, I learned my lesson. I made a decision right then and there that I never wanted to pull another all-nighter (at least not for schoolwork). And I never did after that.

But even though I now make my deadlines 99.9999% of the time, I still struggle with procrastination every once in a while. Unfortunately, I’m also a perfectionist. And as a perfectionist, I still beat myself up over leaving things until the last minute. Yet I keep doing it. So, I’ve decided to apply my new mindset (changing my perspective and looking at things differently) to this issue.

I’ve decided I need to make procrastination work for me.

A lot of life experiences have led up to this point. When I was in TV, I discovered that no matter how much time I had to put a story together— whether it was ten minutes or five hours— I always finished right at the deadline. It wasn’t a matter of procrastination in TV— it was just the way the business worked (we were always in a rush). But what’s interesting is that some of those stories I slapped together in ten minutes were better than the ones I had more time to spend on.

I’m going to try to look at that as a sign that I actually thrive under pressure (how’s that for spin?).

Likewise, I find that when I put off doing something, I tend to get a lot of other things done in the meantime. For instance, if I know I have to write a difficult email I will stay away from my computer and instead put away dishes, clean up the living room, mow the lawn… you get the idea. And the whole time I’m doing these things, I’m thinking about what I’m going to say in the email. So… by the time I sit down at my computer, I’ve not only decided how to handle it, but I’ve got a cleaner house and a tidier lawn as well.

And of course, since I thrive under pressure (see above) the email comes out a lot better later than it would if I’d spent the last three hours at my computer.

I know… it’s a reach. But it’s better than beating myself up for not sitting down until the last minute to write that email. 😉

I know this exact process won’t work for everyone. But here’s my point: nobody’s perfect. We all want to be, but sometimes life prevents us from living up to our own high standards. If you are trying to reach a summit— there could be several paths that lead up to it— and it really doesn’t matter which one you take… as long as you get there.

I would love to be that person who starts things as soon as they are given to me. But the conclusion I’ve reached is that starting earlier (in my case) doesn’t really help. I get things done in the time they need to be done. And they usually turn out really well. In fact, looking back at several projects— I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing… even if I’d had more time. So there’s no point in me beating myself up for not starting sooner.

Now I want to make my own school scare film called: “Making Procrastination Work for You.”

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