Productive Procrastination

If there is one thing I’ve learned over the last 19 years it’s how to procrastinate. In fact I’m something of a professional at it.

It isn’t that I’m lazy, or that I manage my time poorly. I juggled two jobs, two degrees and indoor netball for a while there, so I don’t have any issues organising myself. I just found that I worked best under pressure. I can’t really concentrate unless there is a target staring me in the face and threatening me with failure (I am also rigidly afraid of failure).

I think I really hit my stride once I started university, and for my entire tertiary career I don’t think I submitted a single assignment outside of the 24 hour period before it was due. Sometimes it was the night before, sometimes it was five minutes before. And at first it was terrifying, my eyes darting rapidly between the clock and my word count. But over time I relaxed. I learned who I was. And who I am is a person driven by the threat of a deadline.

I can already hear potential future employers crossing me off their short lists.

But as I waited for these impending deadlines to come to me, I learned how to procrastinate. It’s not something that comes naturally to everyone. I like keeping busy, and more importantly I need to keep busy. Wasting time really bums me out, so I learned to fill my time with activities that felt productive even though in actuality they came from a place of pure time consumption.

Here are five of my favourites: how to procrastinate productively from a professional procrastinator.

Procrasti-reading

Are you reading this blog-post instead of studying for your exam? Awesome – you’re doing great. I can’t recall how many times I read random news articles or blogs or pulled books off my shelf instead of opening a textbook. But it was more often than I care to admit. At least if you’re reading you’re keeping your mind working. It’s probably  a little better than a Netflix marathon, right?

Procrasti-cleaning

Can’t concentrate on your research report? Get up, turn around, and sort your room out. My room was never cleaner than when I had a big assignment due, because even if your life is a mess, your room shouldn’t be. Clearing away the clutter and finally sorting out your floordrobe does not help with your essay writing, but it will at least make your mum happy.

Procrasti-baking

This is such a common and classic form of procrastinating, it even has its own hashtag on Instagram. Not only does this fill your need to feel productive in the days leading up to exams, but you wind up with some delicious baked treats to enjoy as you cry over your textbook.

Procrasti-writing

This blog is an excellent example of my side-career as a procrasti-writer. Writing about anything and everything other than what you’re supposed to be writing about might seem like a waste of creative energy to some; if you’re going to write, may as well write out your essay notes, right? Nah. At least you’re at your computer and practicing your writing skills.

Procrati-cising

I hate, hate, hate exercising. Except when I have an essay due. Exercising is a good way to burn some calories as you burn time, but it’s also really useful if you’re struggling with ideas for your assignment. Going for a walk or a swim can help clear your mind and help you to de-stress, which is often a barrier to essay writing on its own.

The Beginning of the Rest

In the early hours of Monday night I submitted the final assignment of my undergraduate degree. And it was possibly one of the most pure moments in my life to go unnoticed.

It was 4:16am exactly. All the words of my research paper had started to blur together on my screen. I’d read the word ‘proportionality’ so many times I was starting to question if it was even a real word. I had thirty tabs open across two different browsers. I was on my third energy drink when the recommended daily intake is two. I was a total mess, and it was a familiar feeling.

Then I hit submit. I hit submit for the last time, and I simultaneously felt everything and yet nothing. Nineteen consecutive years of navigating my way through the NSW education system had finally left me here: hunched over my laptop in bed, somehow yawning with exhaustion and yet shaking from the excess caffeine. I’d finally reached open water. It was exhilarating, satisfying, and just a little bit terrifying.

Everyone in the house was asleep, so there was nobody physically present to share the moment with. No point calling my parents, who sleep so early I’m starting to suspect they are afraid of the dark. Nobody was online except me to care about my research paper on the culling of pest animals in NSW. Or my degree in general, really. It was just me and the moment.

It was only a moment. A moment that filled me up and then emptied me just as quickly. For the last nineteen years I have been Jessica Sheridan, student. That’s the answer I put on every form I fill out at the RTA. Every time someone asks me what I do for a living. Every time I walk into the bank and speak with a teller who wants to charge me higher fees. Every time I go to the movies or shop online at ASOS. Why am I still living at home, you ask? I am student.

And what am I supposed to do with all this student-based knowledge? All these suddenly seemingly useless skills? I can write a research paper like nobody’s business. Essay plans? Sorted. Thesis statements? Too easy. Hypotheticals? In the bag. I was a seasoned veteran, taking down take-home exams and using the word ‘juxtaposed’ in the appropriate context. I guess some of these skills will prove to be transferable – or so they keep telling me – but it still feels as though it’s all been used up.

This is it. This is the end.

Or rather, the beginning. The beginning of the rest. What that means, I haven’t yet decided. It could mean the start of everything else – a grandiose and epic journey as I chase my passion for writing and my dream of saving the world. It could mean the next chapter of my life as I enter the workforce and find myself a new word to write on all those RTA forms. It could mean a literal rest – a break from life to decompress and maybe read one of the many unread books on my bookshelf. I haven’t yet decided.

When you’re young people always ask you to draft out what you want to do with your life. And everyone always answers with something similar, like a fireman or a hairdresser or maybe even a cat. Then you get a bit older and you start to entertain different ideas, changing your answer to things like doctor or actor or journalist. Then at the precipice of adulthood they ask you to submit a final copy of your life plan along with your university application and/or CV for full time employment.

And that’s crazy, isn’t it? I’ve been a student for nineteen years, and I am still not sure if I’m ready to submit a final draft. I’m not sure I would even be happy to settle with just one submission. There’s just too much in this world that I want to be.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. All I know is that I am no longer Jessica Sheridan, student.

I’ll try and figure it out sometime.