Maybe it’s a weekend of turkey and tryptophan talking, but sitting here while in one ear flows the tinkling piano accompaniment of a silent movie and in the other my conscience screams an internal whisper of “Do some work, jerkoff,” I can’t help but think about the joys of procrastination and how wonderfully good I’ve become at putting off that which should be done now but can be done later. (You know what I’m talking about because you’re doing it right now, reading these ramblings instead of getting on with what you know you should be doing…yeah, YOU!)
I know I’m not the only practitioner. There’s two other trained professionals sitting here with me as I write this. And I’m certainly not the only person to think that I’m accomplished in this particular work-style, though I have gained such a level of proficiency in it that writing this post, which I also procrastinated doing, is itself a form of procrastination. But I know I’m really good. I should be working on some copyediting, reviewing the freelance assignment I got on Friday, writing a cover letter, updating my resume, requesting references for my LinkedIn profile, and scouring job posts, all in preparation to apply for that job that will lead me to the promised land of the permanently employed. In actuality, I’m watching a YouTube video of Kyrie Irving dressed up as an old man dominate a blacktop b-ball court in Jersey (watch it because it’s fantastic), eyeing my inbox to see if someone wants to distract me with an email, staring at the ceiling, wondering if a different color palette would more properly accent this blog, and thinking this is just about the perfect time to sweep the floor and flip my mattress.
Procrastination isn’t just about the job hunt, either. It could be a school paper. Could be an email you don’t want to write but know you have to. (I’m not talking about the email to the annoying drunk at Thanksgiving dinner you never liked and now have an opportunity to scathingly berate for their inappropriate inebriation and not-so-subtle groping, because I know you’re just dying to write that one; I’m talking about the one you have to send before the start of the work/school day tomorrow that will color the rest of the week a turd brown if it’s not done just right.) It could be anything that falls into the category of what must be done, and because it must be done the whole order of prioritization changes, often placing it last on a long list.
As a teacher, I had the opportunity to witness some of the most practiced procrastinators in the profession. Artists really. People who could look intensely busy for an entire class block dedicated to project work and when the period came to a close had only managed to open a Word document, get their first name and half of their last name down on the page, and decide on a perfectly fitting title like “Essay.” These young Pollock’s of procrastination were different from the students who were simply jabbering on with their friends, surreptitiously playing games, looking at Facebook, and texting. (Yes, I saw you. Yes, I knew. Two words about “Hamlet’s inaction” when I walked by didn’t hide the fact you were talking about how drunk you were Friday night. Minimizing the window on the Mac didn’t hide what you were doing anymore than texting underneath the desk, which, by the way, made it look like you were inspecting yourself for body lice.) The true procrastinating pros were the ones who felt that looking like they were doing something was akin to actually doing it. And they believed it. (Don’t feel bad, I procrastinated grading the same essay you procrastinated writing.)
From years of personal practice and careful observation, I have identified three main styles of procrastination. You may see your style here. Though often the artist will switch between styles, or mix and match as is needed to create the perfect combination of postponement, the following are the base elements, the primary colors if you will, of procrastination:
- The Pretender: The practitioner goes on about his daily business as if nothing is pressing in upon him, as if there is no looming deadline. Also called denial.
- The Creator: The practitioner of this style will find (or invent) other tasks that absolutely must get done before work can commence on what should be done. It’s like a degenerating orbit that slowly circles closer and closer to the task at hand.
- The Planner: The practitioner is always “thinking about it.” This is otherwise known as “mental outlining” or “cognitive preparation.” It is invisible to the naked eye, but is, as he will swear, part of his process (though results in no physical evidence of work).
Each style has its own ancillary benefits but also comes with its own unique drawbacks. The Pretender gets to enjoy time to its fullest, but accomplishes the least of the three styles (unless watching football and drinking the afternoon away is an accomplishment, which I think it is). The Creator, while not actually getting done what should be done, still manages to get some much needed tasks knocked off his to-do list (a to-do list engineered specifically to avoid the real task at hand). This is often in the form of cleaning dust balls out of the upper corners of the room or getting lint out of his belly-button. The Planner, in contrast to the first two, actually does make some progress on the task, though I have yet to see mental progress be made available as a means of proving the completion of a paper, report, or cover letter. The downside for The Planner is that he is constantly preoccupied with the task and can neither fully enjoy his day like the Pretender nor walk around with a sparking bellybutton like The Creator.
The problem that arises for me, someone with this highly honed skill set, is that the intern, the unemployed, the new kid on the job market, theoretically can’t afford to procrastinate. Can’t waste a second getting on top of and completing the assigned task; the whole idea is showing the powers that be that you’re the shit. I can’t waste a second applying for that job or examining that meta-data because someone out there is thirstier, hungrier, and that’s who I’m up against. So how do I deal with my penchant for procrastination? How do I go against years of training in the field and a work style I’ve utilized effectively for many years?
Embrace it. Accept the fact that I binge. I binge work. I binge play. It’s my style and procrastination is my Armani.
I don’t miss deadlines. I don’t make excuses. But how I get it done is my business, for now anyway. So I’m not going to go out and buy that book that tells me how to fix my “bad” habit. I’m not going to twelve-step my way to a planned and timely life. I’m going to roll how I’ve always rolled. I’ll get it done and I’ll get it done right. And when am I going to do it you ask?
I’m not sure yet, but I’m thinking about it.