Left Undone

As a consummate procrastinator I tend to put things off- maybe not until the last minute, but often until too late to be thorough. Partly this is because I work best with a deadline and deadlines don’t seem real until they are imminent and partly this is because if I do get an early start on a project I will just keep working on it until I run out of time anyway.

For a long time this wasn’t really a problem: I was setting my own schedule so my hard-and-fast deadlines were generally spaced out in infrequent, panic-inducing vortices throughout the year with plenty of recovery time on the far end. Being in an academic setting has changed all of that. Now hard-and-fast deadlines happen every week- and sometimes every day and my baseline panic level has reached a new normal. The life of a grad student.

It doesn’t help that several times now we [students] have been expected to turn in projects without them being assigned in class. Sure they are on the syllabus (sort of) and sure we are grown ups now and can be expected to be responsible for managing our work load without a professor holding our hands every step of the way. I’m a self starter, so motivating myself to work on an assignment isn’t difficult to me, but without an explicit starting line I find myself holding back out of the worry that I will need to undo work if I start it before learning of the professor’s expectations. Then the deadline starts looming and the anxious voice saying youshouldbeworkingonthatprojectwhyaren’tyouworkingonthatproject???!!! starts to run full time in the back of my mind.

Anticipation is the biggest problem. Some mornings I wake up with my jaw clenched from a night spent making to-do lists in my sleep because I know that there is so much to be done. The more tasks that I think about having to do the more anxious I get. Ironically this is why to-do lists are so helpful to me: if I can see that I am on-track with my tasks I can reassure myself that even though I may have many obligations I am keeping up with the work load.

That said, I am discovering that the best treatment for this anxiety is simply leaving as few tasks undone as possible. This sounds like a “duh” type epiphany, but it is much easier said than done. Write the paper now, not later. Post the assignment early instead of right at the deadline. Do a bad version so that it is done and then fix it if there is time. Edit that scene tonight, not tomorrow morning… I’m not perfect at it, but I’m getting better.

The next trick, of course, will be finding ways to Do Stuff Now that also balances out with being able to get enough rest, eat real food, and spend time with the Curmudgeonly Lion. It’s all a balancing act.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on September 26, 2013.

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