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the science of putting it off
the quick and the deadline
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)

Me: Hi. My name is Adam and I'm a procrastinator.

Group: Hi, Adam.

Yeah, that's how it goes in my mind. Then, of course, after 12 easy steps that can be performed whenever I get around to them, I'm cured. I never turn in work late, I never stay up all night writing an article, and I never forget to call "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" again.

But, as my social life often mercilessly reminds me, the things that occur in my head are not quite as full of wonder as those that occur in real life. Otherwise I'd be dating Ally Landry.

But I digress. The point is, as a writer, I'm constantly reminded of the importance of deadlines. If, as a reporter, you miss a deadline, chances are you won't have a story, and there's a good chance you won't even have a job. Editors are notoriously rigid when it comes to that sort of thing, which is why I now write this column only four days after it was due.

Yeah, I'm not too bright.

And I know I'm not the only one who does this; we all, at one time or another have felt the desire, nay - need, to put off some type of work until the last minute. How many of you have said, "Well, just one more game of Doom; I only really need 2 hours to prepare tomorrow's presentation and then I'll still be able to get seven minutes of sleep"? Or, "Yeah, I should pack for that trip tonight, but I'd rather watch this special on submarines"? Or even, "Yeah, I know I have to go vote, as part of my duty to my country as well as for the spirit of Democracy all over the world, but I'd rather have sex"? I'm sure that things like this go on in heads all over the world.

People tend to make up excuses, too. I know about this - I'm the King of Rationalization (it's actually a small island west of Java). You tell yourself things like you work better under pressure. No one works better under pressure. There is no way that writing an article in five hours with only half of the research done will turn out better than if you had an entire month to do it. That's like saying you would have done better on your GRE if you'd just had less time. The world doesn't often work that way.

And the things we do instead of working astound me. I'm sure I didn't need to watch Kurt Russell in Soldier last night when I could have been writing this. And I know people who think things like, "I don't have time to pay my bills tonight - I've gotta go to sleep. Maybe if I ignore them entirely, they'll just go away." Welcome to the grand delusion.

And it's not just cool activities that take up our "quality" time. The only reason that people would ever watch infomercials (with the possible exception of Cher's) is if there were something else that they should be doing that they are avoiding. No one really cares about the Health Rider, or that grill that runs on newspaper. Or how many people would actually clean the tile in the bathroom if it weren't for that phone call to mom that they were supposed to make yesterday? I spent the first week of October my freshman year in college writing "Pink Floyd The Wall" on the wall of my room with electrical tape because I didn't feel like doing my Macroeconomics reading. But then I told you - I'm special that way. (It did turn out really cool, though. Ask me nicely and I'll even show you the pictures.)

Why is baseball America's pastime? It's not because of the intense action, or all of the violence, I can tell you that much. It's because the game is an excellent way to waste a large portion of the day. I'm not saying that baseball isn't fun to watch - it is. But there are very few games that can truly go on forever. Extra innings were invented by people who were supposed to be shopping with their wives or doing repairs on the house.

There's a saying about the expectations of something actually being better than the actualities (or if there isn't a saying about it, there should be), but it works in the other direction, too. We get so scared about having to do work that we do pretty much anything else to avoid it. And these things usually wouldn't be so bad if they weren't titled "work" - I know that I can read over a hundred pages of a novel for myself and not even blink, but if I have to read three pages of any sort of report, I'm suddenly saying to myself, "Well, it's only seven. If I can nap for forty-five minutes, maybe I can read a little of this before Friends." Right.

I guess the answer is that the best way to get something done is to do it. And, as my mom said (though she probably wasn't the first), "The trick to being successful is to do the things you don't want to do." Of course she also once told me that a good way to get a girl interested in me is to have her bring me soup. So I've started taking everything she says with a grain, nay, a lick of salt. (Mom, I'm kidding.)

On the other hand, I've discovered that these things have a way of eventually getting finished, even if you wind up having to miss other important life moments like your dog's first trip to the pet psychiatrist. It's a question of priorities. So the next time you have a paper due, or a presentation, or Thanksgiving with the cousins, maybe a little avoision (thank you Kent Brockman) is a good thing.

And besides, if it weren't for people trying to find something to do so they don't have to think about that stack of 80-page reports they have to convert to Adobe Acrobat by the end of the month, I doubt anyone would even be reading my column. Including you.


A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

more about adam kraemer


what's in a name?
handles, monikers, appellations, labels, and the occasional misnomer.
by adam kraemer
topic: writing
published: 9.10.03

how do i edit thee? let me count the ways.
by adam kraemer
topic: writing
published: 11.8.10


adam kraemer
7.5.00 @ 5:29p

I meant to respond to this earlier....

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