Put Off

Procrastination is a curse of the gifted.

That may not always be the case, but it was for me. I’ve always been one of those infuriating people who could turn in a paper late and still get an A- or B+ on it, or omit a project entirely and still comfortably pass the class. I can remember procrastinating as early as the first grade. There was an assignment to write a story about a picture of a castle and to color that picture. I fretted so much over the fact that my stories about castles (of which I certainly had many) were too full of violence to include in a first grade Catholic school assignment that I didn’t leave myself enough time to actually color the picture. A few years later, I dawdled over a book report to the point where I ended up writing my assignment against just the first few chapters. In neither of these cases did I end up suffering much repercussion for my heel-dragging.

High school and college were no different. In Psychology 101 I even facetiously wrote a paper about procrastination at the last minute, in which I describe the phenomenon as a kind of conditioned emotional response. The thought was that anticipating critique on one’s assignments created a kind of performance anxiety that would lead a person to seek distractions instead of the work itself. There may be some truth to that, but in my case it’s a bit disingenuous; bad marks were seldom a concern.

In addition, my natural flow of work was described in a personality test I once took as “bursts of energy powered by enthusiasm.” I can be extremely prolific with effort on a project at its outset, when interest is high and its newness makes it novel. But in the hard dull work of the later phases of a project, or if the project was never terribly intellectually stimulating to begin with, motivation is hard to find. That applies whether it’s a work assignment, an area of responsibility, or a game design.

In the adult world this sort of nonsense won’t be tolerated forever. Bosses ask for explanations when deadlines are missed, even if the work is top-notch (besides, if done last-minute, there’s no guarantee it will be; some things have a lower limit on time to complete). And the procrastination mindset begins to seep into other areas of life, too: debt spirals can be thought of as “deal with it later” on money matters, and waking up realizing that you’ve put off your dreams until your deathbed is the very picture of end-of-life regret.

Slackerdom is so at odds with my self-image that I beat myself up every time I get into a put-it-off slump. My bookshelves commemorate every wake-up moment of the cycle: Eat That Frog!, The Now Habit, focus, etc. But habits this old are exceedingly hard to break free of. Will I manage to turn the ship around?

Maybe tomorrow.


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