The Home Team / "Never do today ..."
Published 1:06 am, Friday, July 2, 2010
"Would it kill you if we actually ordered this stuff before the deadline?"
Aggravated, I say this to my youngest son on June 30. His order for Staples football gear is due on July 1, and he still has no idea what he wants. Okay, part of the problem stems from the fact that he thinks June has 31 days. And of course he wasn't planning to make his decision until the 31st. His procrastination doesn't surprise me; he's been waiting till the last minute his whole life. Nonetheless, it still drives me nuts.
The irony, though, is that late that same night, after coming back from teaching a writing course, I sit down to finish my column -- the very column you're reading right now -- which is due in less than two hours! What's more, I've just boasted to my students that I need to rush home from class and work on my yet-to-be-completed column that has to be turned in by midnight.
I never used to procrastinate like this. What's happened to me? Where did this behavior come from? I'm guessing I picked it up from the rest of my family -- none of whom is inclined to kick it into gear unless the clock is ticking.
If my wife has a big new-business presentation to do on a Monday morning, count on seeing her working feverishly on Sunday night and into the wee hours to triumphantly get it done. She says this focuses her; that the adrenaline doesn't flow unless she waits till crunch time. My oldest son, an advertising copywriter, gets off on that same kind of last-minute brinksmanship. To my youngest son, not doing an assignment until the last conceivable hour, and then coming through big-time, is the definition of "having heart." My middle son doesn't have a name or a rationale for his procrastinating; he just does it. Obviously, it runs in the family.
Me? I've always been the polar opposite. When Carol and I are scheduled for an evening in the city, I'll have everything laid out -- theater tickets, directions to the restaurant, pre-selected clothes -- before I even sit down to work in the morning. Leaving things until the last minute always made me queasy. I never pulled all-nighters in college: The thought of going in to take a test without being totally prepared, without a good night's sleep, got me way too nervous. In my Little League coaching days, I'd be on my sons relentlessly to have their glove, their bat, and their cleats all ready -- and then, if it still wasn't time to leave, they could go back to watching TV. I'd put "tickler" notes on my calendar reminding myself to start preparing for a new course more than a month before I'd have to teach it, and would have my columns finished at least a week before they were due. Sometimes I'd work on writing assignments so far in advance they'd be out of date before they'd see print!
Lately, though, things have changed.
For one thing, it finally dawned on me that when you start a project too early and give yourself a lot of time to complete it, you'll take a lot of time to complete it. (Does "All work expands to fill the time allowed" ring a bell?) In other words, if I started working on a column on Tuesday morning that was due Wednesday night, I'd probably get little else accomplished by deadline. But if I started that column on Wednesday afternoon, chances are I'd get a whole bunch of other things done on Tuesday and Wednesday as well.
And for another, well, yes -- there is that buzz that my wife and my sons talk about that comes from pulling one out at the last moment, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Being clutch. The very kick that impelled me to boast about my late-night heroics to my students.
Hey, I don't really know what makes me -- or any of us -- procrastinate. Laziness? Human nature? Whatever it is, I don't have time to figure it out right now.
I have a column that's due in a few minutes ...
Westporter Hank Herman shares his Home Team column every other Friday in the Westport News.