You can ask any person who knows me, I am probably the worst procrastinator they know. My college procrastination antics were miraculous at times. I started every single paper that I wrote in college at 2 a.m. the same day it was due. No joke. I even pumped out my entire 17-page capstone paper for my Peace Studies minor between 2 a.m. and 12 p.m. (at which time it was due in my professor’s office on the opposite side of campus).
This is not something that I am proud of at all and I’m fairly certain that it will cause me to die a few years sooner. But even after college I continued this. When I was teaching I would write exams at 3 a.m. or finish grading seconds before my students walked in to pick up their grades.
Really, though, I never had any strong desire to change because it always worked out for me. I’ve always had great friends and family that would help me out however I needed or a great work community that would pitch in to get the job done. My procrastination worked for me. I always finished what I needed to in time.
Until I had kids, that is. Before kids I could drop everything, including sleeping or eating, if I really needed to focus on something to get it done. But with kids in the mix, that was no longer the case. Kids still need to eat, still need baths, still need naps and sleep, and in general, still need to be loved and nurtured. I found myself trying to cram big projects into one night and failing miserably. I found out very quickly that I could maybe accomplish one small goal each day. I couldn’t take 12 hours to sew a Halloween costume; I would have to spread that out over the course of a month. I couldn’t take all day on Saturday to do laundry, tend to the yard, and clean the whole house the day before guests came to stay with us. These tasks would have to be spread out over the course of the week every week.
This is when I realized that procrastination is the opposite of a habit. Procrastination means that you don’t ever need to develop any system or routine. You just jump from fire to fire putting them out and crash in between. Something is done not because it is a good thing to do but because there is a deadline that needs to be met.
Learning habits is perhaps one of the most challenging things I’ve had to do. But I have realized it may be one of the most critical skills necessary to become a successful adult. And I don’t mean successful like a millionaire. But someone who is put together enough to be able to handle what life throws at them. There are so many adults that I see that seem to be drowning all the time because they just can’t figure out how to put all the pieces of their life together. They have no idea how to develop a healthy lifestyle, be it eating, socializing, or finances. They just have no idea how to develop good habits. Myself included.
Working at a high school for the last five years, I have put a lot of thought into what are the most important skills we can teach. I think it is the ability to develop a good habit. Ones that are mundane and boring but completely necessary to organize our lives.
I’m not saying I don’t procrastinate anymore or that even after I have gotten a good habit going that I slip back out of it, but I do hang my keys on the key rack every time I come in the house and I always put the scissors back in the penholder by the phone. It’s a start.