The Procrastination Blues

I spent the afternoon working on a couple of submissions, only to realize that, with the main one -- of my novel to PNWA -- the contest doesn't have a postmark deadline; it has a "received by" deadline. Tomorrow. And it's already 4:30. Dang.

My students often tell me that they work better under pressure. This quarter a student said that the only A grades she's ever received for a paper came when she left it until the last moment. Fair enough, I've grabbed that brass ring a few times, too. But I find more often that my procrastination habits do not result in better work. In my life, procrastination results in missed deadlines. It results in days drinking too much coffee, in headaches, in an intolerable level of anxiety. In a flood of disappointment.

In Writing Tools, Roy Peter Clark recommends turning procrastination into rehearsal. I translate this for my students by 1) looking at the assignment very closely, closely enough to digest it, as soon as it's handed out (this would have been enough for me to have completed my submission on time); 2) breaking the task into very small steps, some of which (one sees immediately) are best taken care of right away (buying envelopes? typing the damn synopsis?); and, 3) for especially big or important projects, setting a goal to do something -- no matter how small -- every day (just opening up the project and looking at it can be enough to keep it from turning into a messy pile of compost).

Another step is to plan a reward (a shiny foil star? a latte? a walk?) for successful completion.

For missing my deadline, a slap upside the head.

On the other hand, compost can be a good thing. I'll get it right next time.