Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What kind of last-minute person are you?

It's four o'clock, and you've just arrived home from school. You have a final project due the next day - a ten minute presentation, complete with a powerpoint, scholarly research, and creative analysis. You can't wing it - you have to hand in a script. You have some info collected, and books on hand, but no actual work. How do you react?

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I think the above is common, but probably doesn't last long in most people. Because, let's face it, if you procrastinate and don't fail, you must have developed strategies by this point.

For me, I thrive on pressure. The deadline, the "go go go" mentality of moving forward and checking things off the list to "just get it done." I never learned to plan ahead that much as a kid because I could pull it off the night before. This attitude has been slightly modified in high school - I start early even though I continue to leave a lot to the last minute. But still, I can succeed on a tight timeframe. Indeed, sometimes I feel like that's the only way I can succeed - because often it's the only way I work. Given that my dad is the same way, it's likely I inherited both the procrastination and the success despite it from him.

My sister, alas, only inherited the procrastination. She can't shut off the perfectionist in her and "just work." It has to be done right the first time, according to some plan. So, come crunch time, she requires a lot of support from both me and my mom, even though she's plenty smart and capable. She just doesn't handle pressure well, and hasn't found a workable strategy to avoid it yet.

Interestingly enough, although my sister loves storytelling like I do, and although she does write some, only one of us has anything finished. And yes, I've had three more years than her, but I also think a lot of the credit goes to NaNoWriMo. It was my need for deadline driven goals that led me to NaNo, and discovering novel writing as a passion of mine. If it weren't for NaNo, and the pressure to write 50 000 words in a month, I can't imagine when I would have "gotten around to" writing and finishing something of a similar length.

Another way in which my sister and I differ lies in our handling of stress. I differentiate between pressure and stress, seeing the former as a specific feeling often brought on by a deadline or goal, and the latter as general feeling of inability to handle everything on your plate.

I see this difference mostly because, while pressure is great for me, I don't handle a lot of stress particularly well. Unlike with pressure, my sister shares this trait - only our reactions are completely different. She freaks out and shuts down, literally unable to handle too much stress. I can, but it's not good for me. When I have so much to do and I'm worrying about it - when I feel like I can't control the situation - I wrest some small measure of control back by staying up really late reading.

Yes, this sounds weird and maybe harmless. But staying up until three, four, five o'clock in the morning, until you can see the sun's rays over the horizon and hear morning birdsong, is really bad for your energy and focus. Really, really bad. (also kind of fun sometimes. but less fun when you don't really want to and you know its just a reaction to stress).

I think it's very interesting how different people can be, even when they are closely related, very alike in other ways, and have been raised by the same parents. How do you (and your siblings) react to pressure and stress?

Case study: Why this post is a bit late and less than perfectly polished

  • Monday night - went for a run, did some chemistry homework, watched TV and hung out online, went to bed
  • Tuesday night - 8 hours spent mostly working on my english summative presentation (also eating and taking sanity breaks). I left about 70% of a project worth 10% of my mark until the day before it was due. Bad idea.
  • Wednesday day - functioned pretty well on roughly 5 hours of sleep. Gave presentation. Was happy with quality.
  • Wednesday night - vegged (mostly watching TV shows featuring David Boreanaz) from dinner at around 5 until 10. At which point I woke up and started getting things done, which has led to me currently finishing this.

This is what a procrastinator looks like. I don't enjoy the exhaustion I'm facing right now due to my poor planning, but I've yet to find a better way to do things. Have you?

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