Doing Yesterday’s Work Tomorrow

By Trish Humphrey (That’s me, in a former life…)

(0riginally appeared in The Diamondback, December 1, 1987; University of Maryland, College Park)

If you’re like me, you’ve spent the last two weeks hoping that someone would come up with a new month of the year — one that fits right between Thanksgiving and finals. It’s not like we haven’t known all along that the end of the semester was coming, but still we can’t figure out where the time has gone. Indeed, just today I was reminded that it really is December, in spite of the fact that even the weather seems to deny it. My mother called me on the phone and squealed, “I just bought the Christmas Tree!”

“You bought the what?!?” I shrieked in horror. My worst nightmares were coming true.

“The Christmas tree?” she repeated meekly, almost waiting for my approval. “I really didn’t think it would get you so upset.”

True, Christmas trees, in and of themselves, are hardly a traumatic experience for me. It’s the 40-page paper that comes before the holidays that has me panicked. And then there’s this project for my public relations class, and oh, yes, the exams. Things wouldn’t be so bad if I could just stay on schedule, but as usual, I’ve put everything off until the last minute. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be running around like a madwoman, and my roommate will find me impossible to live with. I should have this whole college routine down to a science by now, but somehow, it never gets any better.

If my dilemma sounds familiar to you, then you are a — cover your eyes if you don’t want to see the word — procrastinator. But don’t worry; you are not alone. Procrastination is a disease that affects millions of college students. I am a self-admitted procrastinator, and I can easily recognize the symptoms.

Every September we procrastinators do the same thing to ourselves. We get up on the first day of classes and recite the following pledge (Repeat after me — I know you know how it goes):

“On my honor I will try to attend every lecture, finish my assignments by the deadlines, and do all the reading — even if I never eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom ever again– so help me God.”

I always start the semester off with a bang. I go to class with my squeaky-clean, color-coded folders, sharp pencils and a new Bic 10-pack. When I look around the lecture hall, I notice that others are also a little nervous about keeping their resolutions. I recognize them right away; they’re the ones squirming in their chairs and already making teeth marks on their pencils. I calm my nerves by telling myself that this is my semester. This time, I’m really going to do it. Things will be different; everyone who knows me will be amazed at how studious I am.

Somewhere between the introductions and chapter two, though, I really lose it. My good intentions fly out the window to join all of those other intentions that went out before. They’ll probably meet up with their old friends, “Tomorrow-I’m-Going-On-A-Diet,” and “Just-Wait-‘Til-The-Commercial.” I’m sure they’re sitting around in The Unfulfilled Promiseland, feet up in their easy-chairs, sipping ice cold Pepsis and laughing at how miserable they’ve made me. Yessir, I know that they’re having a ball.

For once, though, I wish that I could prove my good intentions wrong. I wish I could wake up in the morning saying this day will be different, and then make it different. It seems like it should be so easy to check off everything on my “Things-To-Do” list, and yet, other things keep getting in the way.

For instance, four weeks ago I wrote, “clean room,” on my list. But first I had some overdue homework to finish. Then the fish tank needed scrubbing for the fifth time in one week. After that I spent hours on the phone with someone I hadn’t talked to in years. (I’m the one who did the calling.) Now, of course, I’m worried about all those assignments I haven’t done yet, and in my spare time, there’s always Christmas shopping or flossing my teeth. (I only do both about once a year.)

Why is it that we procrastinators always get into these little predicaments? I would attempt to answer the question scientifically, but I’ve been putting off going to the library. (My research paper is in the library, too, just waiting to be dug out of hundreds of journals.) The truth is, though,that most human beings will try to put off those things that they dread doing. Let’s just say, then, that I am a very refined example of human nature.

Seriously, though, life would be a lot more boring if everything got done when it was supposed to. Why else would the shopping malls stay open on December 24? I go then, just for the thrill of it all. And somebody has to keep the coffee companies happy, right? Procrastinators, such as myself, are perfect for that job, because we wouldn’t dream of studying until the night before a test.

Let me take one step further, and say that procrastination, to a certain extent, is not always a bad thing. Those of us who practice the art have become really fast thinkers. We’ve become experts at thinking under the gun and then covering our tracks behind us. The more we do it, the better we get. And it makes us better prepared for a crisis in the real world.

I think, also, that more and more people are adopting our religion. (We even have our own television show; it’s called the Home Shopper’s Club.) It seems that everything around us is changing to accommodate the procrastinator’s special way of life. Why else, then, would someone have bothered to invent sponges with the soap already in them? And I have a secret theory that the person who invented those cardboard cartons for the microwave just got tired of seeing the dishes in the sink. What kind of person was it who thought of putting peanut butter and jelly in the same jar? When you think about it, some of these things are really quite silly.

Unless, of course, you’re a procrastinator. These conveniences become necessities for survival, because procrastinators know that every second counts. Americans have finally realized that procrastination isn’t just a fault anymore; it has become a way of life.

By the way, “clean room,” still hasn’t earned the distinction of being checked off my list. Maybe I’ll get to it tomorrow, but tonight I’ll be seeing you in procrastinator’s heaven — the 24-hour room.

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