Thursday, September 24, 2015

How I Became a Procrastinator

Let me preface this by saying I am not, in fact, a procrastinator.

I'm kind of the opposite, really. Which is what this post is about.

I am very good at getting into my lane, buckling down, doing everything completely and thoroughly and comprehensively, and putting it down at the end. This has been my preferred way of working since I was a child, and I was basically in heaven the year I had a teacher who taught lessons in the morning and turned us loose to work on the classwork in any order we wanted in the afternoon. I could bang everything out and finish quickly and get to free reading or doodling or whatever. It was so restrictive to go at the pace others had set and wait for them to be ready, but that was part of learning to respect others and have patience.

Group projects were always a mess for me. I was the kid who would get homework done on the bus home if I could, because I hated the feeling of having something hanging over my head that needed to get done, and I certainly couldn't enjoy the things I loved if I was putting off assignments so I could do the fun things first. So group projects that involved waiting for other people to do their parts--and accepting that almost all of them DID like to procrastinate and would literally wait until the last minute with someone standing over them guiding them and tapping their foot--were always really stressful.

So I would do extra work, or assume leadership/organizational roles so I could put some of the work off my plate, or proactively ask questions so I could get it done and stop thinking about it. And even with projects I liked, it was satisfying to do them quickly and do them well. Especially since that meant there would still be lots of time to fix things if they didn't work right at the end.

That's kind of where I started getting into trouble when I was older.

Teachers expected me to procrastinate. They damn near banked on it. So sometimes when I would do as much of the project as I could given the terms, I would later find teachers offering clarification or specifics they had not offered before, and the work I'd already done became inappropriate or would have to be modified. I would end up doing more work because I tried to do it "too" early.

The same happened in life outside of school. I'd try to prepare for something by packing early or gathering information, and then someone would change their mind about a date for travel or the focus of their article, and my preparation would be unnecessary. And sometimes the people who changed the situation would act like I was silly for preparing my life as if they'd actually meant what they said. So over time, I learned that people generally do procrastinate, and if I don't do it too, I may be doing unnecessary work or might be mocked for it.

I think this is also why I prefer to work alone on creative projects. There's this terrible drag that happens when I'm the fast one and my partner(s) won't speed up, and even if their procrastination inconveniences me or destroys the project altogether, I'm treated like a jerk for expecting them to do their part, especially if they've disappointed me before and I learn from the experience and provide more check-ins the next time. This sort of thing led to me writing someone else's lesson plans for them the night before a project was due in college because the ones they gave me were terrible, or having to run out and buy a gift because the other person who insisted they would finish making the item just didn't get around to it (and didn't tell me in time for me to help), or suddenly being in a position to lend a large amount of money to someone when they let a chronic problem become an emergency.

Basically, being the person who doesn't procrastinate has led me to sometimes trust that others aren't procrastinating even when I know they will, and then I have to save their asses.

I don't like always having to be the ass-saver.

So there have been times when I just procrastinate with them. So I don't end up being treated like I said "I told you so" even though I never say that. So I don't create a gulf that makes people resent me as if I worked fast or did a lot of work just to show them up. So I don't end up being asked to carry them again

It's still uncomfortable sometimes for me to put a project down and say "I'm going to do it later," knowing I could just full-steam it and be done, but what I've also learned is that there is sometimes value in waiting. If I do it at the usual pace, with other people, sometimes I see other ways to approach it or even have access to them helping me. It isn't unheard-of, and I'm not closed to it. But I naturally operate best with delayed gratification; if I really want to enjoy a snack or watch something mindless on YouTube, I'd much rather use that as a reward for finishing something than jump to the reward and put off doing the hard thing. 

It kinda weirds me out that so many people consistently choose the fun thing or the easy thing or the "reward" and put off their responsibilities so thoroughly that someone else has to come scrape them off the floor or help them carry their burdens, because I don't even enjoy the fun thing as much if I know I'm engaging in it while avoiding what I should be doing, but I think we've established that I am not most people.

I am no longer actively anxious about unresolved responsibilities the way I was when I was a kid, so I've certainly learned some coping strategies and learned to put things off if it is beneficial to put them off. I've learned how to tell when I should slow down or avoid immediate immersion or take my time, especially if other people are involved or affected by it, and it helps that I take on a HUGE load of projects voluntarily (so switching between them and having a ton of balls in the air is my default state now); I probably look like I'm procrastinating sometimes, but more than likely the thing I haven't done is just not at the top of the list.

People sometimes tell me I need to learn to relax and learn to slack off, but to be honest, I think I know how to relax. It's just that I really enjoy the projects I choose, and even though they are difficult sometimes, they are also really satisfying. It's kinda frustrating sometimes when people tell me I would enjoy being more like them when I know I don't. And when I tell them I am just not satisfied by chilling out and being low-key about getting stuff done, they tell me I should be. That I need to learn to be satisfied by different things, and that I need to redefine what makes me happy. And that's the sort of thing I've heard in several avenues of my life from people who just don't understand the concept of different happinesses for different people. You cannot assume someone isn't happy because they are satisfied by different things or in different ways, or because they do not have what you do or what you want. And you cannot judge someone incapable of understanding what they want for themselves just because you can't wrap your mind around what it would be like to want that. It really irritates me when people see how I operate and inform me, condescendingly, that I clearly just need to relax.

And to them, "relax" means "procrastinate." "Stop being efficient, even though you like it best that way." "Just learn to indulge." Ignoring that the way I "indulge" is to satisfy my obligations and responsibilities (and some of the creative projects I choose to put on my plate). I had to do a lot of thinking before I understood that this doesn't need to change before I can be healthy and well-adjusted. I am already a healthy and well-adjusted person, partly because I listened to myself (within reason) when determining what needs to be satisfied for me to be happy. I am not unhappy just because I am driven. I am not on the verge of collapse just because sometimes my passions become exhausting. I am not suffering when I hold myself to high standards of productivity and meet my goals consistently. I am not just rationalizing pathological mechanisms of coping so I can pretend I'm okay.

But what I am doing is realizing that it is okay for others to procrastinate even though I tend not to, and it is okay for them to be happiest the way they are, too. It is a bummer sometimes when I have to clean up their messes, but I think most people are (or have been) the mess-cleaner-upper in some aspect of their lives. I have learned that sometimes I need to procrastinate (and find ways to be okay with that) in order to function with other people, and most of the time I know the difference between the times I should push to prioritize something and the times when I need to be okay with putting something on the back burner.


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