University Writing Center Blog

Posted on October 25th, 2015 by Jennifer Mahoney

by Patrick Stutz, W496 Seminarian

[Disclaimer: procrastination is a dangerous activity. Attempt at your own risk. By reading on, you assume full liability for poor procrastination outcomes and hereby waive your rights to blame the author. The views described herein do not reflect the opinion, values, or views of the University Writing Center. Viewer discretion is advised. Oh, and Prof. Brooks-Gillies, please don’t read this until after I graduate.]

Perhaps Peer Consultant Megan said it best in the previous post: early in the semester is when we are excited about our new classes and “we have the most energy to expend on classwork” since we’re rejuvenated from our vacations. But if you’re like me, that excitement and the “OMG new classes!” motivation dwindles rapidly right around midterms. Regardless, like little grim reapers demanding candy at our doorsteps on Halloween, dozens of dismal due dates creep into our calendars, begging us for submissions and constantly reminding us that we’re going to die soon. (Just kidding. Sort of.)

My career as a habitual procrastinator began at age 12 when I naively neglected a historical fiction book report until the night before it was due. I began reading the book at 8pm and finished it at 4am the morning the report was due. I then spent two hours completing a two-page summary, a critique-of-writing, and a character analysis. I slept for 41 minutes, rolled out of bed, and went to school for seven hours. I ended up receiving an A on the report. After that, I would never be the same.

Many people might assume that such a procrastinator is an underachiever who doesn’t value academics or grades. However, I consider myself a “type A” personality – otherwise known as a “perfectionist”. I was the annoying kid who challenged teachers when missing points on tests. I nearly shed a tear when I got my first and only B on my high school report card. I’m a passive-aggressive grammar Nazi (I won’t outwardly correct you, but if you misuse “there,” “they’re,” and “their,” then you’re basically dead to me). Yet despite my perfectionism, I usually can’t motivate myself to start an assignment earlier than 24 hours before the due date, regardless of how big of a paper it may be. Why?

I think a lot of perfectionists are also notorious procrastinators. This is confusing and somewhat paradoxical, but bear with me. Perfectionists cannot simply jump right into a task such as a large project or paper. We have planning, brainstorming, prewriting, notetaking, reading, research, and outlines to think about first. Where would we even begin? This line of thinking causes EVERY assignment to feel daunting. Intimidating. Time-consuming. When I am swamped with a half dozen assignments around the same time, I simply do not have the time to address any of them. So I procrastinate.

But then comes the day before the due date, and there are simply no more opportunities to say, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” At this point, there is now ZERO time for planning, brainstorming, prewriting, notetaking, reading, research, or outlines. This is the irony of the whole situation; after all that stressing and worrying about how daunting of a task it is to tackle a writing assignment, I end up doing exactly what I said I couldn’t – jumping right in. I plop my butt down, crank out a paper that somehow miraculously meets all requirements, and get it done hours (often minutes) before it’s due, all the while skipping the laundry list of things I believed would make my paper “perfect”. In the end, I often turn out with a pretty decent grade.

Perhaps my dicey procrastination habit has nothing to do with perfectionism, and maybe my habit has just been positively reinforced enough times with good grades to make me think that. Who can really say for sure? All I know is that until my last-minute risks run me into serious trouble, I probably won’t stop any time soon. So until then…procrastinators, unite! Er, tomorrow.