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For the last three weeks I’ve been preparing a new speech. Well, let me rephrase that: For the last three weeks I’ve been saying I was preparing a new speech and getting ready to start working on it, but mostly balancing my bank statement and doing a lot of mending that’s been sitting in a pile for six months but suddenly seems incredibly urgent.

I hate to admit it, but despite turning all my papers in on time in college, I am an ace procrastinator. I’ve fought this notion for years, because we all know that procrastinating is morally suspect and liable to undermine the fabric of society. First I rigidly refused to procrastinate and instead wasted lots of time working very slowly and steadily and meeting the deadline. While this looks like the proper way to accomplish things, it felt like an enormous burden. Then I secretly sneered at other procrastinators, arguing inside my head that my tendency to “do things at the last minute” was a creative maneuver, not just sloth or poor time management, as theirs was.

Luckily for my character development, I eventually realized that my procrastinating was exactly like everyone else’s, and this secret sneering business was going to undermine my moral fibers a lot faster than the procrastination itself. I decided to look at the way I did things and see what was going on. I wanted to know whether procrastinating was a true drawback, or if it might actually serve some function for me.

When I have a project or deadline of some sort, at first my brain says, “Oh, there’s plenty of time, don’t worry about that yet.” I talk to my friends about whatever the subject is and randomly look for reference materials, but I don’t concentrate very hard. At a certain point in the time-line, my brain switches over to: “OK, it really is time to work on that, but let’s just do this one thing first.” Even when I’m mending curtains that my cats have ripped off the wall, part of my mind is mulling the project over.

Then comes a crucial moment, four to six days before the deadline, when suddenly I leap into action—thinking, writing, getting everything organized—and I feel incredibly alive. The right proportion of pent-up energy has finally been let loose, and I think I’m smarter and better at making mental connections because of it. And the whole thing is easier and more fun than it was when I started earlier and paced myself.

The only delicate part of the process is if I wait too long to spring into action, because then panic sets in. The thought that I’ll screw up because I’m unprepared overwhelms my ability to think clearly about the project itself. Unfortunately, I think that’s where I am now. I’m a poet, I don’t know how to write a speech—what will I say?

This question makes my friends—ratfinks that they are—break into hysterics. “YOU? Molly Fisk? Not have something to say?”

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  • Carol Seelaus December 31, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    If you like to put things off until the last possible minute until the deadline, you could characterize yourself as a “cliff hanger,” which means that you work best under pressure. Do you drink lots of coffee? Are you interested in the horse race aspect of life? Do you engage others into the “last minutes” of your projects? (Can we do this before such a date? Can we get this done before this date? Can we buy this thing before the coupon expires?) Would you consider re-thinking this whole concept? How about creating a deadline about two weeks ahead of the real one? And respecting it? If the result wasn’t so great, you could “fix” it with a two week window. The lesson learned is that “There’s no shame in being early.” Try it. It works!

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  • Gail Willis December 20, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    After years as a masterful procrastinator,which I also viewed as making me more creative, I finally decided that what it really boiled down too was my own version of “an extreme sport”. I have never been very active physically. I have never had even the slightest desire jump off buildings or ski straight down vertical slopes. The adrenaline rush of being close to a deadline supplied all the excitement I needed. Having rounded into my seventies I am beginning to realize that I need find a way to trigger that rush to begin way earlier. Lots of things just seem to require more time than. They did even six or eight years ago. I have more thoroughly embraced the prompts of the post note, the to-do list, and even the kitchen timer. There it goes now reminding me I have come to the edge of the necessary time to get that lasagne in the oven before our guests arrive!

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