Before the end of April, I have to write a thesis and two term papers, which amount to about forty pages. I have to admit, it’s stressing me out a little. Last night I said to Michael, “I have so much work to do; I think I’m going to have to become a full-time student.” Of course I’ve been a full-time student for ten semesters now, but I meant that I’m going to have to buckle down to my studies full-time.
Michael laughed. “Now’s the time to start working hard? In the last month of your fifth year in college? Don’t you think it’s kind of late?” But he was just teasing. He knows about my Problem, and about my Policy. And I think now, when I really should be working on my papers, is the perfect time to share those with you.
It’s fitting, really, because my Problem, if you haven’t guessed already, is Procrastination. Big-time Procrastination. Some people work better under stress, but I work only under stress. There have been times when I simply could not get started on a paper until I had a time-limit most people would consider unbearable. I never need more than an hour per page, so if the paper was due at midnight I’d start writing at 7:00, and if by 9:00 I had three pages written, I’d take an hour break. Otherwise the pressure would cool and I’d just waste time.
It sounds really, really crazy to most people who hear about it, but I know that you all are already aware of my craziness, so what have I got to lose by revealing it here? I am a world-class Procrastinator. I’ve tried to change, but I cannot. If I sit down in front of the computer two or three days before a paper is due, I’ll just stare at the screen or write the same paragraph over and over. I’ll think, “Okay, ten-pager due Friday; it’s Monday, so I’ll write two or three pages a day and be fine.” Then Thursday night I’ve got nothing written, but when I sit down with that pressure pushing me, my fingers fly over the keys. I once wrote a ten-page history term paper in five hours, which I believe is my record.
Which brings me to my Policy: Never do more work than is necessary to get an A. I don’t remember having this policy when I was in kindergarten, so I must have developed it in first grade, maybe as late as second grade. In high school I did my homework at the lunch table or in other classes. I didn’t study for tests. I did assignments as quickly, with as little effort, as possible. If I’d been unable to get As using this system, then I would obviously have changed it, but I didn’t need to, so I didn’t.
My freshman year in college I got a rude awakening from my organic chemistry class. I changed my definition of “acceptable grade” from A to B, but to get that I still needed to study, so I did. That semester, I’d spend six hours at a time in the library, buried in my textbooks. It felt kind of good, but it was definitely not the way I planned to spend the rest of my college career. In the years since then, I’ve perfected the system. I know exactly how much work I need to do to get an acceptable grade in a class. I have become an ultimately efficient machine, cranking out assignments in the least amount of time necessary, with the least amount of effort.
It sounds awful, doesn’t it? I will frankly admit that I do not consider myself a good student. I love the things I’m studying, and I learn them, but devotion to my work I do not have. Maybe it’s why I could get married so young – school was never my first priority, so I didn’t have trouble making room in my academic life for my marriage. It was always abundantly clear to me that marriage should come first.
Of course, I’m clearly not cut out for a career in academia, but I’m okay with that. Knowledge for its own sake, I love, but the work required to get those degrees is simply not something I’m prepared to do. I hear in grad school you actually have to study every day!