On Procrastination and Getting Older

Note to readers: If you're not my mom, you probably want to skip this post entirely... it's long and photoless. There may be a few more like this one up my sleeve this week. Bear with me.

Whoot, whoot. That's the sound of me tooting my own horn. I'll admit it, I have been pretty proud about getting my handmade Christmas presents done and out the door early this year (United States Post Office, don't fail me now), but I also must admit that being prepared has not always been my strong suit.

For my most of my school experience - elementary through grad school - I found it impossible to start an assignment until the last possible moment. In high school, I often implemented a method passed on to me by my brother, whom one could call the king of procrastination (am I right, Peter?). He taught me a trick that allowed me to wait until the last minute - three or four o'clock in the morning on the day a paper was due - to write, edit, type, and print out school assignments at home. My Smith Corona word processor (remember those days before we had computers at home?) made quite a racket when it printed, and it took for-freaking-ever to print a single page, let alone a ten or twenty page paper. The sound of all that printing in the middle of the night would certainly have woken up my mother who would have been furious to know that I'd waited until the night before a paper was due to start it. But Peter showed me that if I threw a blanket over the word processor, taking care to provide just enough of a drape as to let the paper exit the machine smoothly, it would muffle the clacking sound to a degree that my parents would sleep soundly through it. I could wait until my parents were in bed to start working on an assignment, and if I worked through the wee hours of the morning, I could finish printing it before my parents woke. I must have been turning in really quality papers...

In college I was worse. With distractions galore (note to parents: think twice before letting your kids attend school in New York City), I not only waited until the last minute to work on assignments, I often had to come up with creative excuses to get deadline extensions. My favorite was a complicated story that I told my art history professor about how getting egged on Halloween made me unable to complete an assignment. I'm a bit ashamed of the lie - I got through a dozen Halloweens in the Bronx unegged, knock on wood - but really, the story was a work of art itself. Almost anything that allowed me to put off my inevitable work was fair game.

Once I became a teacher, it took me a solid three years to learn to plan my lessons a week in advance so as not to experience Black Sunday. You know, Black Sunday - when I'd sit on the living room floor, surrounded by teachers' guides and story books, plotting out exciting and stimulating activities while the rest of the city was at brunch, enjoying museums, and generally doing anything but work. I finally figured out that a little preparation every day during the week made for much happier weekends. Who knew?

The older I get, the more I realize that being prepared really has its benefits. I'm too tired to pull all-nighters, and too mature, I hope, to make up pathetic excuses for not coming through with things on time. This year, I started my handmade Christmas presents in earnest back in November, so this has been a pretty stress-free December for me. After last year's handmade holiday issues, that's saying a lot. Why did it take me three decades to figure this out?

All that being said, our Christmas cards still aren't in the mail.


Anonymous said...

This is my worst Christmas ever for procrastination. Evidently I'm devolving.

Tyra said...

Girl, you know I know about Black Sunday. My blood pressure is going up just thinking about it. It's good to hear that there is hope for those of us who are organizationally challenged :-D

Carol Emma said...

When we are young, we roll your eyes when someone says, "older but wiser", but isn't it a relief to get wiser, even if it means having to wear a little age with our wisdom.
When you get Really Old, you can procrastinate again and just say you forgot :)

Kim said...

In high school & college I did the exact same thing. Not fun! Now I find it much easier to a do a little bit at a time way ahead of time. Who knew?

lealou said...

Ha! Congrats on learning your lesson - I still feel like I'm a huge procrastinator -- after 30 years of leaving things to the last minute you'd think I would learn, but secretly I think I work better that way. If I start something earlier rather than later, I most certainly will make a mistake -- dunno what it is. I think I just love the pressure.

Now studying... that was a whole other story :)

Best wishes and Happy Holidays!

Anonymous said...

I'm laffin uncontrolably thinking about you, Peter and I'm sure Maryanne thinking you've outfoxed us!!!! Not so, Kid...we were so tired of the muffled clicking coming out of your rooms late at night
that we came up with a plan! We knew you'd wait 'til the last minute so we made plans to be with
friends drinking wine, eating pizza and laffin at
you guys!!! Out of fear of waking us you never
checked our empty room as we were out having fun...it was great looking at your red eyes and
lethargic movements in the morning...all we could
do was wink at each other and hold in the laughter!!! We knew you'd get it someday but it
was so much fun watching you guys suffer!!!!
Lots of love Suzy, and actually that was thoughtful
of you guys to muffle the word processor!

Mariss said...

Oh my God! I just read what your dad wrote and it is HYSTERICAL! I love that your family reads your blog!

When you first explained the blanket, my first thought was the paper -- but then you explained the "drapage allowance". Big brothers are good for something, huh?!

As a recovering procrastinator myself, I'm extremely proud of your holiday efforts!

Mariss said...


P.P.S. Read that the way you would "San Dimas High School Football Rocks!!!! Don't know why I had to throw in a Bill and Ted reference, but I couldn't stop myself.

Robyn said...

sounds too familiar. And your dad's comment was hilarious! My parents tried to say something, but it was just in my nature then. I'm still trying to recover from procrastination so I don't pass it onto my kids. :0)

Nadia said...

I'm the same way too... Except I've discovered that I am too old to stay up all night anymore. With only one more Xmas hat to knit, I think I'm actually on top of things right now! (Don't ask about the non-knitting life -- that's a different story.)

betsy & iya said...

Susan! I love this post...because, sadly, I relate to it so heavily. If this holiday season is any indication to you--my life has been much like yours in the procrastination arena. I will definitely try and follow your example next go round. Also, as much as this weather has been a hit to my business (multiple show cancellations), it has also been a reminder that sometimes it's okay to take things a little slower.

Carolyn said...

ah, i remember well the joy of all night paper "writing". on typewriter no less. ;)

Michelle said...

S, you are so funny, you got egged huh... great story. I feel you, I have had the same sort of evolution, except I went a little too far this year, I had my gifts purchased by July...but I still haven't wrapped them...oh well.

Connie said...

Planning ahead does feel rewarding. procrastinating always made me nervous. go you and your christmas present making!

holly said...

Diet Coke fueled nights with papers due the next day... yeah, I remember those days. I am sad to say that I am still a major night owl and procrastinator - although maybe I am a teeny bit better. Your blog brought a smile to my face remembering those good ol' days. Merry White Christmas!

Shona~ LALA dex press said...

Standing behind someone at the Kodak print booth for 1 hour. UG! I decided that everyone gets hugs next year- a big huge bear hug.

Have a wonderful Christmas.

Tom is going to grad school in Jan to get a degree in Special Ed, I'll have to warn hime about "Black Sunday"

Mom said...

Dear Suzy,

Hmmm, all this stuff that comes out years later!! Little did I know about your tactics at Fordham! Wait til Peter comes home and I let him know what a bad example he gave you by that blanket trick!!!!

But I must confess I am truly amazed how you got it all together this year and will tell you that Dad and I are now the procrastinators. Dad did bring the tree in on Sunday and put the lights on and hung 2 wreaths and that's where it has stopped. At the rate we are going we will decorate the tree and the house on Christmas Day!

Since we are going to Maryanne and Tony's tomorrow for Christmas Eve I do have those gifts wrapped and the ones we'll take to Nicki's on Saturday for the family party.

But figure since Peter and Jennifer are not coming in until Saturday early morning I will have time on Christmas Day and Friday to wrap theirs! Someone did mention in your comments that as one gets older they can regress and procrastinate again so I guess I qualify!

Your tree looks lovely and am glad you and Barry will have such a relaxing and enjoyable Christmas. Goes without saying (but I will write it anyway) that we will miss you both, think of you and pray for you at Mass.

Love always and forever, Mom

your brother said...

Kids today with their virtually silent inkjets -- bah, they don't know how good they have it.

Melissa said...

Ah, Black Sunday. For me it was more about ordering pad thai from Thai Pavillion at 8 pm, watching reality TV all night, and fantasizing about being hit by a bus rather than going into work Monday morning.

As far as procrastination goes, I'm still suffering. Flying to NYC tonight and still have six of twelve gifts to finish crafting. Eeks!

amandajean said...

i'm older that you, and I still haven't learned those valuable life lessons. maybe next year??? I doubt it.

I loved the part of your story about the smith corona making a racket...and your brother's ingenius solution.

kat \ Taylor Made designs said...

I'm impressed that it only took you three years to figure it all out at school :)

As someone who "thrives" under pressure, {or at least that is what I tell myself} I think we all have a tendency to procrastinate and wait till the last minute to do things. But I'm with you... I am too old for all nighters and waiting till it's too late so I don't enjoy the "now". I am much much better with my time and getting stuff done. But I'll never be perfect. {and why would i want to be!} Merry Christmas and enjoy your time together.

Julie Owsik Ackerman said...

Procrastination. As someone who was often the source/accomplice of your college procrastinating, I read this with great interest. I too, have learned how much smoother, less stressful, and easier life is when one does what one can in advance, in small steps. That's not to say I didn't leave packing for our Christmas holiday until 20 minutes before we were leaving. But still, I'm WAY better than I used to be.

Merry Christmas!

house on hill road said...

from one procrastinator to another...go you! i do think you have me beat on the high school paper thing. i did those on time. i think the height for me was in college, turning in my senior major thesis in rough draft form at the last minute. good times. this year i did not make gifts and lo and behold, i really enjoyed the holidays. even with a smidge of christmas eve crafting, i was in good shape. older and wiser? maybe.