The Jolly Librarian Ponders the Optimism of Procrastination

I worked the circulation desk today, and almost every time I tried to tell  students when their books were due, they responded, “Oh, they’ll be back tomorrow.” The answer was usually accompanied by a guilty giggle.

Yes, it is the season when those rare creatures make their way into the library. It is the season of the procrastinators. Procrastinators, in general, are gentle animals, characterized by good will and unwarranted optimism. They hear the research assignment in August and think, “Well, this is interesting, but the due date is far away. And right now, there are so many things to do. My friend needs help moving. I want to practice my guitar. And there is football to watch.”

Of course, as each week goes by, the deadline gets closer, but the procrastinators do not notice. Life has other things calling for their attention, and if a hint of unease does occasionally slip into their consciousness about that research project, they manage to push it aside with another task that seems quite urgent at the moment, such as reading a chapter in the psychology text or searching online for a new green sweater.

But then the due date looms, and procrastinators can no longer pretend that time is on their side. They come to the library and ask in a self-effacing tone if we can help them find a scholarly article on homelessness, books on obesity, and/or a novel on the required list that is not too long (translation–able to be read in one night).

They cringe a little, perhaps expecting the lecture they often receive from non-procrastinators: how they should have used their time more wisely, how impossible it is now to do an adequate job, and how they are making themselves sick with stress.

But in the library, we don’t judge. Our job is to welcome all and help them get where they need to be. They receive enough criticism elsewhere; besides, it’s not as if they don’t know they have an awful night or weekend ahead of them. We help them find what they need and wish them well as they leave.

The Jolly Librarian has a soft spot for procrastinators because I am one of them. I have written research papers, assigned in August, over Thanksgiving weekend. I have suddenly found “Beverly Hills 90210” completely fascinating rather than read another 18th-century novel. I have suffered the consequences of waiting to the last minute. I have been lectured about the stupidity of putting things off.

But like my fellow procrastinators, I am not lazy, stupid, or pig-headed. More than once, I have sworn that THIS time is the LAST time I will put things off, that next time I will begin early and have things finished before they are due. And I have meant every word, only to fall right back into my procrastinating ways.

I’ve battled procrastination, and I’ve finally realized that it’s a part of me like my green eyes and fused toes. But I’ve also learned that once I stopped battling it and started accepting it, I could still get a lot accomplished.

For me, the following things work:

  • Kind self-talk is more effective than angry self-lectures.
  • Telling myself that I’ll just do a little and then I can stop often works, and sometimes (not as often as I”d like) I get motivated to keep working.
  • Doing a little bit every day keeps me from being overwhelmed.
  • And I NEVER let myself ask for a deadline extension.

We are what we are (procrastinators), but, paradoxically, we can still get things done.

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