Productive Procrastination

Okay, I’ll admit it. Despite my stellar grades and seemingly organized life (which is all a workplace illusion, by the way), I am quite the procrastinator. I’m not too proud to admit it. I can procrastinate like it’s my job.

I’m not as bad as some people, I suppose. I’ve had plenty of classmates who were regular customers of all-nighters at the library. Classmates who were still working on an assignment until approximately two minutes before they needed to hand it in. Even classmates that would run the risk of finishing an assignment AFTER the deadline.

Thankfully that is not a life I’ve often had to live. In six years of higher education, I have never pulled a genuine all-nighter. I can probably count the number of times I’ve worked on assignments past two or three in the morning with just my hands, sparing my polished toes. While I have finished a handful of assignments the day of, I usually have at least an hour or two of reprieve before the deadline. As far as I can remember, I’ve only turned in one major writing assignment past the due date, and that was because I had a parent in the ICU and had temporarily forgotten that college was a thing that even existed.

Still, I’m prone to some procrastination, albeit responsible procrastination. (Is that an oxymoron?)When I was in college, my style of the procrastination was pretty typical. Don’t want to work on something right now? Okay, then don’t. Go to the mall instead. Read a book . Spend a few hours on Tumblr. Or rewatch the entire series of The Office for the fifth time. You know, typical “I’m in college and I don’t want to write this paper” stuff.

My preferred method of procrastination in grad school was of an entirely different breed. I like to call it “productive procrastination” As the name hopefully suggests, this particular method involves putting off a high-impact, impending project and working on a less crucial but still valuable, even necessary, task instead. Don’t want to work on this assignment? Sounds like a perfect time to revise your CV and update your LinkedIn profile. How about taking a fresh look at the list of PhD programs you want to apply to down the road? Maybe you should sort through the emails in your inbox. Isn’t there a cool, new activity you could develop for your students?

Over the past two years, I have suffered from productive procrastination many, many times. I’ve been particularly prone to this disease in grad school because I’ve learned so much about who I am as a writer, student, and scholar during my MA program, and there is definitely a noticeable difference between graduate courses that allow you to complete assignments within your own goals and interests and those that try to pigeon-hole you into writing about a particular topic. One of my most drastic cases of productive procrastination was spawned from such a situation. In the TAs-only course I’ve had to take each semester, we were assigned a project in which we had to do substantial research on a particular sub-field within composition studies. I selected writing center studies, of course, because that’s my central research focus for life beyond the MA. I would work for hours and hours and hours on this stupid project for a freakin’ half-credit course. Papers to grade? Sure, right after I read 6 more articles about asynchronous and synchronous online tutoring. Need to complete assignments for actual classes? Yeah, I’ll work on that once I perfect my writing center Prezi. It was so bad, but I couldn’t even feel guilty about it, because I was technically working on a course assignment. And that, my friends, is what productive procrastination is all about.

So, I’d like to say that I was mature enough as a graduate student to not procrastinate my work, but I simply can’t. That just isn’t the reality I’ve been given. But I can say that graduate school has made me a more responsible and productive procrastinator, and that’s enough for me.

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Headfirst into Deep Water

About two weeks out from graduation and fully submerged into stress, I accidentally developed a new favorite phrase. When one of my coworkers asked me how I was doing, I pointedly responded that I strongly desired to, “jump off a short bridge into deep water.” It was such a perfect sentiment. All the ceremony of dying without any of the consequences. And plenty of dramatic flair.

Of course that’s all over now. Last assignments are written, assessment portfolios are turned in, final papers are graded and submitted. Long, black robes and “Pomp and Circumstance” are slipping away from fragile memories. Hell, even my official diploma has already arrived in the mail, placed into its leather folder and packed away to be quickly forgotten.  My time at the university I’ve called my second home for six years is officially over.

The feelings of slowly sinking, however, have not subsided.

Once finals were over and my teaching duties came to an end, I expected to encounter a substantial feeling of relief. The weight lifting off my shoulders, so to speak. But any moments of calm in the past two weeks have felt artificial at best. A trip to the zoo with my boyfriend and best friend was guilt-inducing. Days not spent on job searches or PhD applications feel wasted. Spending even a small fraction of my graduation gift money seems criminal. The future is constantly looming over me, and I will not truly be able to relax until I have a concrete plan for the next twelve months of my life.

Applying for jobs is my full-time job now, and it is not a job I’m very good at yet. I met with one of my former professors yesterday for a job application workshop, and he obliterated my materials (though I mean that in a good way, I promise). It is comforting to know that someone still has my back and is really pushing me to be my best. It is also comforting to know that he will help me represent myself as well as I can and get me a great job in a reasonable time frame. But the whole process is so incredibly overwhelming. So many postings, so many genre conventions, so many differences between types of jobs. Even with help I can hardly keep it all straight. And as soon as I secure some sort of position, I have to throw myself into PhD applications.

I’m headfirst in deep water by now, but I did not jump willingly. I was thrown overboard. Here’s to hoping I don’t drown.