I have put off finishing this article long enough. During the two hours that this unfinished column languished on my computer desktop I watched an episode of the Andy Griffith show, went to the kitchen three separate times to snack on pecans or cherry tomatoes, surfed Facebook, put all my freshly washed clothes in drawers or on hangers, jotted down some ideas for next year’s marching show, and did some writing on other topics. I did get quite a bit done, just not what needed to be done the most.
Unfortunately, my tendency to procrastinate extends into other areas of my work life. I sometimes have a hard time sitting down and studying my scores for rehearsal. Even as I type this, I only have to look six inches in front of me to see the scores I must study before I return to school tomorrow. Marking pens and highlighters have been sitting on them the whole weekend, gathering a microscopic layer of dust.
It is comforting to know that I am not alone. In fact, I have some brilliant company. Mozart wrote the overture for Don Giovanni in a single night – the night before the opera’s debut. Apparently Mozart could compose entire symphonies in his mind, often while playing billiards, and at times he didn’t put pen to paper until he had completed the entire piece in his head. At Don Giovanni’s premiere, the ink on the overture’s sheet music was still wet from last-minute copying, and there was no time for rehearsal.
I’m not sure what to do about my tendency to procrastinate, but I’ve considered doing something about it for a long time. Some say that Victor Hugo, the great French novelist of Les Miserables would strip naked in his study and give his clothes to his valet and tell him not to return until the appointed hour. That might work, but it gets awfully cold here in Arkansas.
In some ways, I’m not sure I need to do anything about it at all. In fact, there is good reason to embrace it. Some professions thrive on being procrastinators. General contractors and subcontractors have it down to an art form. We have a new fine arts facility being built right now, and if I structured my week like theirs, it would look like this:
Monday: Go to my office and lay out all of my work. Leave.
Tuesday: Go to my office and make sure nothing has moved. Maybe stick a little flag in pencil holder. Leave.
Wednesday: If it rains, I’m staying home.
Thursday: Rearrange papers on my desk. Leave.
Friday: Work a little. Leave early because it’s Friday.
Now that I think about it, procrastinating can really have many advantages. It can save you from wasting your time. A couple of years ago, my assistant director and I were a part of a newly-revised state mentoring program. We were asked to jump through dozens of convoluted and time-consuming educational hoops with a website harder to navigate than the Everglades. Because we were in the middle of marching season, we put it off, and it was a good thing we did. There were so many complaints from other mentors and mentees across the state that the requirements were greatly reduced by the time we got around to doing it in April.
Procrastination can really come in handy when a new educational fad is implemented in your district. If you time it just right, the fad may be over before you do anything. Several years ago, portfolios were all the rage. Basically, we were expected to keep a folio on each of our students, a task I found ridiculous for a band program our size. I suspected the faculty member put in charge of accountability on this dreadful project was not one who could handle the task. However, my younger assistant very diligently tried to put something together for all of his students while I did nothing. As I suspected, the whole portfolio idea died without so much as a whimper sometime before the year was out. What would I have done if the portfolio rage had survived? I’m not sure; that was a bridge I never had to cross. As it was, I felt the thrill of being a wise rebel.
You can also learn from the mistakes of eager beavers. This works particularly well with technology. While others spend hours clicking and cursing while trying to figure out some new software program, I wait until all the problems have been solved before beginning my work. You are letting others more suited for the task accomplish it. They feel good. You feel good. Everybody wins.
Admittedly, procrastination can cause a lot of stress as a deadline nears, but look at the big picture. Procrastination crams all the unpleasantness of a task into a smaller time frame and allows you to enjoy a large chunk of your time. Putting things off lets your subconscious work, allowing a better idea to be born and grow. The idea, coming at the last minute, is fresh. In today’s fast-moving world, great ideas can be outdated almost as soon as they are presented; one might as well wait.
Procrastination can lead to peak performances from the realization that much is at stake and matters must be taken care of immediately. It forces you to keep things efficient and simple, but with increased creativity required by the situation. It is comparable to the thrill of a quarterback leading his team to victory in a precisely played two-minute drill with a trick play added for kicks. Procrastination adds a refreshing air of spontaneity to your life. Your significant other may even find this spontaneity romantic. (My wife loves spontaneity, but she’s inconsistent. She’s thrilled with a last-minute picnic, but not when I decide to mow foot-high grass in the dark.)
Despite the virtues of procrastination, there is a time when a task, no how disagreeable, must be done. Because I am a musician, maybe I can find a music playlist online that will get me pumped up and ready to accomplish any task. I think I’ll google some things and see what I can find – tomorrow.