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My to-do list looms. It’s longer than usual. I don’t want to neglect a single item, but oh, not beginning feels so indulgent, so decadent. I wallow in my lack of responsibility—except I don’t actually lack responsibility. I’ll finish everything—some things twice to be sure it’s my best work—but first I’ll languish with a cup of tea in front of the fireplace. Maybe I’ll read a short story or a chapter or two from a novel. Stolen moments taste sweetest.
My gratifying sloth may have begun in elementary school. No day of freedom ever felt as wonderful as a snow day—a day abruptly called off when you were scheduled to have classes. The only way that brief respite could become more rapturous was if I had homework I hadn’t finished. I used to try to orchestrate a perfect intersection of incomplete homework and copious snowfall, but it was always a risk—even in Michigan. If my plan failed, I ended up hastily correcting my error in the car on the way to school and surreptitiously adding the final touches in homeroom or in the preceding class.
PSYCHOLOGY TODAY suggests that “perfectionists are often procrastinators” because if you don’t start an assignment, you can’t disappoint yourself with your product. I like my work to represent me well, but I don’t think I’m a perfectionist per se. No, my procrastination is more like flirting with danger. What if I can’t finish! Except I don’t usually cut my margin of error too close. I don’t like to lose. Beneath my bravado, I know I can do what I must. I’m secretly not in jeopardy.
My procrastination can serve me. After a period of flagrant self-indulgence, I’ve sated myself with pleasure. Work doesn’t look intimidating any longer. I deserved that break. I work hard. I’ve proven to myself that regardless of whether anyone else appreciates my efforts, I do, and I pay well.
On the darker side, procrastination also provides guilt as a last-ditch motivator. I use guilt for those duties that bring little or no other satisfaction—laundry, cleaning, sorting out my email and social media. These are all tasks that remain endless—cycling into infinity until I drop in my footsteps. End points are pure deception. But when the dirty clothes erupt from the hamper and my grandchildren compose poetry in the dust on my furniture, when I have so many neglected emails that my electronic devices squint their eyes closed and refuse to accept more, then my guilt starts calling me names. What kind of human being allows her surroundings to be engulfed by evidence of sloth? What would my mother say!
Perversely, there’s a certain grim satisfaction that occurs when you let your to-dos pile up. It’s more fun to clean the house when it’s really dirty—messy and dusty and cob-webby all at once. When I finish, I can see the difference I make in the world. My surroundings shine anew! The pleasure far exceeds the product of light dusting and tidying the coffee table. Ta daa!
I don’t procrastinate as dramatically as I did when I was employed outside my home. Then even an hour of distraction could result in stacks of ungraded papers that would pre-empt even my favorite TV programs. The consequences could be dire. A couple sick days could fill my ensuing weekends with drudgery.
And so, dear friends, I give you procrastination—sometimes a curse, sometimes a blessing, always a choice. We’ve made friends, procrastination and I, and look forward to a long, fruitful relationship.