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Getting down to business ... eventually

(July 13, 2000, Gazette)

By Kelley Power

Do any of you know what a round tuit is? A round tuit is a disk-like object with a message inscribed on its face which assures the owner that tasks which he or she has set aside, waiting until the day they “get around to it,” can now be completed. With the presentation of this object, the recipient has finally “gotten a round tuit” and therefore can no longer justify putting things off, or procrastinating.

My first encounter with a round tuit came a few years ago when I was given one by a friend. This was an eye-opening experience; until that moment I had never really thought of myself as a procrastinator.

Sure, my yard occasionally looked like some of the darker recesses of the rain forest and I may have had half my personal belongings scattered around my bedroom floor, but did delinquent mowing habits and neglectful housekeeping practices make me a procrastinator?

I thought not. So, I looked more closely at just what earning that title involved.

If being a procrastinator meant that unpleasant or obligatory tasks were often put off in favour of more gratifying ones then yes, I supposed I might be one.

If it meant that assigned papers or projects were occasionally completed (okay, and started) near their deadlines then, again, I had to confess that there was a distinct possibility that I was a procrastinator.
In recent years, I have come to accept that it’s not just a possibility; I now have no doubt whatsoever that I am a procrastinator. I just hadn’t gotten around to acknowledging it.

But really, am I in the minority? Haven’t most students at some time or other burned the midnight oil in a last ditch effort to get an assignment finished or squeeze in another hour or two of study before the big final?
Let’s face it: at one time or another we all bow to that little hedonist buried deep within ourselves, choosing to enjoy a nice summer’s day or a night out with friends in favour of performing work or school related tasks.

The argument could be made, though, that such behaviour is acceptable in moderation, but to make it a way of life is extreme and, in some cases, an indication of laziness or blatant irresponsibility.
And I can see the truth in that. Pursuing any one thing to the exclusion or detriment of all others is never healthy. Indeed, when this “one thing” is alcohol or some form of narcotic we call it an addiction.
Perhaps that’s what procrastinators have: an addiction to self-gratification - satisfying one’s own desires to the exclusion of all other obligations.

I think, however, that this theory may be a little harsh. While it could be true in some cases, I believe that the average procrastinator - someone like myself - has no such self-serving motives.
Occasionally, a person simply cannot master the art of time management. Every semester starts off the same, with promises of exceptional organization, diligent and progressive work on assignments and the occasional sacrifice of a weekend for the purpose of study.
By mid-semester, attempts at strict scheduling are abandoned and the post-midterm break rush begins. The library is like a coop full of headless chickens, with students running from floor to floor in search of information for five different papers.

I had experienced this phenomenon myself on several occasions and began to believe that I had sold my soul to the god of ineffective time management. It seemed as good an explanation as any for my procrastination.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it didn’t fit the profile of an individual who, for years, had balanced an active athletic, academic and social schedule. You can’t live a life like that without some kind of ability to manage your time.

Then, recently, I had a conversation with a professor of mine who suggested that I am a ‘deadline driven’ individual.

Now this gave me pause for thought. Never before had I considered myself a person who got a thrill from enduring the pressure of completing assignments the night before they’re due.

Frankly, I cannot think of anything less gratifying than spending a whole night squinting at a computer monitor and, in the morning, looking and feeling as if somebody has beaten me with a rubber hose.

Yet, time and time again, I and many others find ourselves in just that situation.

Why do we do it?

I suggest that it is a case of classical conditioning. Much like Pavlov’s dog, we become trained to behave a particular way given a certain stimulus. In the case of the procrastinator, the behaviour is superior performance of the mind and the stimulus is pressure.

No pressure, no performance.

I can’t say for certain when the seeds of this conditioning are sowed, but, given that I’m already sounding like someone with a degree in psych, I may as well offer another suggestion.

Drawing from my own experiences, I figure that after so many years of competing in sports - where performance under pressure is essential - my mind and body have become accustomed to putting a push on when pressure mounts.

And, in the same way that you raise your level of play when necessary, writing becomes more eloquent and concise when you’re pressed to convey your ideas in a limited amount of time. It’s as if the pressure keeps you focussed.

In all fairness, I do have to admit that work resulting from a last-minute effort can sometimes be crap. If this holds true for you, then waiting for performance pressure isn’t your reason for putting things off; better look toward time management or simple laziness to explain your procrastination.

Obviously the reasons behind procrastination vary widely from person to person and, as always, I do not presume to speak for anyone but myself. For the rest of you putter-offers out there, you might find it useful to consider where your own procrastination stems from. In fact, I feel confident that each of you will do just that. Eventually. When you get around tuit.