“Get up and get ready! Don’t you have a flight to catch ?”, yelled my morning alarm at 4:00 am. I say, Snooze. But hey, you can’t snooze your wife, can you ?
All I had to do that day, was to reach Melbourne (from Canberra, where I live) in time for the workshop. The hour long flight departs at 6:30, which gives enough time some breakfast before the 9:30 am start. And if you know a bit about Canberra and its airport, you would know, you cannot miss your flight. Unless you start too late. There are no usual challenges like in other cities: bad traffic, long queues in the airport, etc. You find more staff in the airport than the travellers. And if there is no check-in luggage, it is sufficient to reach 30 minutes prior to the departure. (it takes just 15 from my place in the taxi).
I was ready at 5, called a taxi at 5:45. And I missed the flight. For the first time in my life.
Why didn’t I leave early? What was i doing (watching TV!). I never missed a deadline when I was in a rush. But this time it was different: I was ready well ahead of time but took it easy and kept pushing forward the task of calling the taxi.
Under-estimation. Over-confidence. Sheer laziness. Lack of common sense. Un-professional. I cursed myself for basically, being dumb.
It dawned upon me that this not the only occasion where I was late or being in a terrible rush. I had always been fascinated by the Just-in-time technique that was introduced to us as part of the training at my first job. However, I had been overlooking the effects of the ensuing uncertainty when you live on the edge. Joining a meeting on the dot, dropping off the kid at school gate just before the bell rings, completing my tasks at work in a hurry etc.
But then, I have been reasonably successful at education and career. Having said that, all through my school and university days, I recalled, I never managed to stick to a schedule. Last minute revisions, late night push to cover more units before the exams, were typical. The nervous energy and the adrenaline rush contributed as much to my results as the preparation itself. Which begs the question: how did I survive when I had been so un-organized ?
I procrastinate. Though it sounds better than saying I postpone things, it basically “is the avoidance of doing a task” (Wikipedia “pro”: forward; “cras”: tomorrow). Researching further, I was lead into a world of interesting people. Found this list of famous and highly successful procrastinators: The Dalai Lama, Victor Hugo, Leonardo da Vinci among others. Da Vinci in particular “had the reputation as a daydreamer who never actually finished anything”. His most famous work Monalisa took 16 years in the making. When he died, he was heard appealing to God, “Tell me if anything ever was done”.
I didn’t have to paint Monalisa, though. Just had to perform well in the exams, pass an interview, get a job and complete my work assignments. I did day-dream (Google came about when my career started) and laze around while still getting the job done. Boy, it was always stressful trying to finish when you start so late!
Further exploration on this subject lead to some bizarre stuff. Stanford Professor John Perry has written a whole book about this embarrassing behavior and ended up being awarded the Ig Nobel prize. I say, anyone who set the title of his book as “Art of Procrastination : A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging, and Postponing, Including an Ingenious Program for Getting Things Done by Putting Them Off” deserves an award.
He basically suggests to make a list of tasks that you have to do and keep that “Important” task aside. This suddenly eases the mind but he asks us to do any of the other tasks from the list. A nice trick to actually do things when we are busy procrastinating. He explains, “With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen” and “an effective human being.” I like that.
It makes sense. When we continue to avoid doing something we planned, perhaps it is worth listening to our instincts and question the purpose, motivation and relevance of that task. When we actually want to do something, we never delay.
I chanced through this funny TED talk by Tim Urban “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator”, where he espouses the idea that we often fall for visible deadlines as the most important things in our life. While we completely overlook (he calls it long-term procrastination) “all kinds of important things outside of your career that don’t involve any deadlines, like seeing your family or exercising and taking care of your health, working on your relationship” etc.
I eventually reached Melbourne with the next flight, missing the first session of the workshop and the breakfast. But I felt well-nourished that day.