Timing is Everything


This is perhaps the worst possible moment for Holidailies to begin. Or, I suppose I should say, one of the worst possible moments. The latest of the worst, and the last for this semester. Which, for me, ends next Monday. At the moment it feels as though it might as well be 2016 (and if it were, hey, I could take a whole lot more time to do everything I need to!).

I realize there is nothing more boring than reading other people's to-do lists. So I will spare you the tale of the philosophy paper (as yet unstarted) due tomorrow, or the Project from Hell for which I am currently in charge. Some of you have heard way too much about these things already.

The funny thing is, if you've known me for any time at all, you know that none of this is new. I thankfully pruned most of my "ohmygod Ihavesomuchtodo letmetellyouallaboutit" entries from the archives here, but who can forget the worst week ever? (Although I am inordinately fond of those entries, to be honest.) And even during last year's Holidailies extravaganza, I was apparently a little overworked. I always seem to be overburdened and frantically rushing about like the proverbial headless chicken (is there really a proverb for that?) to get things done, and never manage to get everything under control.

There are a few possible explanations for this. One is that I have unrealistic expectations and take on too many responsibilities. Well, maybe. Although I know plenty of people who do a lot more than I do and who don't seem to be hurtling breathlessly through life always worrying about the next deadline. So I don't think the problem is that there's too much on my plate, objectively speaking, but the problem is how I go about the eating. Of, you know, the stuff on the plate. That metaphor really does not work well in extended form, huh?

One might assume that I procrastinate and simply wait too long before starting projects. Sometimes this is true, but honestly? Not as often as you might think. A better explanation might be that I am inefficient in how I handle my various tasks. That is definitely something I'll cop to: I am easily distracted by shiny things, and for instance will start researching a topic and find myself hours later knee-deep in a related, fascinating, but ultimately not useful to me subject.

A corollary to the inefficiency is the accusation often leveled against me that I complicate my life to an unnecessary degree. Well... maybe. I prefer to spin it as enjoying a challenge and embracing change, but sometimes I definitely go overboard. I have a bit of a perfectionist streak (Dario would be mumbling about "understatements of the century" right about now), and if I think something can be done better I will do my damnedest to make it happen. For our big paper of the semester, for instance, I got 30 pages in, went to class the night before it was due, was struck by an inspiration, got home at 9 p.m. and threw out what I'd already written. I stayed up all night to write 32 brand-new pages. This did not seem in any way strange to me. The paper was so much tighter this way! (I also came down with the flu, but that was just one of those minor sacrifices one makes for the cause.)

Today is an excellent example of all of the above: for my theory class, our final project (not the most important one of the semester, just basically in lieu of an exam) was to trace a given theme throughout the readings from the semester, write a 5-to-7-page paper summarizing said theme, and prepare a visual presentation of about 10 minutes. The visual presentation could be a poster, a set of PowerPoint slides, whatever. All very loose and open to interpretation, as is her style. This is exactly the kind of assignment that will get me into trouble every time.

I spent a total of about 5 days on the paper (where "day" is a unit of time between 10 and 20 hours). I started with plenty of time to spare, and was diligent about seeking out every single reference to my chosen theme ("time and space") in all of the readings. Which mostly meant rereading them, a semester's worth in the space of a week.

Then, per my usual method--see "inefficiency," above--I actually wrote a 15-page paper, and one of those days was spent hacking away at it to get it down to size. So, paper done, it was time to work on the presentation. This was on Sunday.
Did I do it in PowerPoint, a nice, orderly series of bullet points that I could have done in 15 minutes in my sleep? Of course not.
Did I make a poster, to be artsy and get some practice for the hypothetical poster sessions in my hypothetical academic future? Mais non.
Did I choreograph an interpretive dance and hand-stitch my own costumes? Okay, I did not take it quite this far. See, I do have some boundaries!

I decided I would make a nice little Flash animation. How fun!

There was the slight drawback that I did not know the first thing about Flash. Also that I have no visual skillz whatsoever. And of course that I had a very limited time frame in which to make it. But you know me: I scoffed at Time, and dared her to get in my way!

I finished it this morning. (And if you are just dying to admire it in all its preschooler-quality beauty, e-mail me and I'll tell you where to find it.) In plenty of time for class, even a couple of hours to spare.

The moral of this story, however, is not that I somehow manage to overcome my own somewhat ridiculous tendencies and bad habits, and prevail by completing my assignments on time, magically sating both the gods of perfectionism and those of academia in one fell swoop. Because, you see, I have one more minor limitation.

I don't multitask well. Or, uh, at all. ("Focused" is a nice way of putting it.) So while it is true that I have completed my work for today with a comfortable margin, and more or less to my satisfaction--and hopefully that of my professor as well--there is still another deadline awaiting me tomorrow. You may recall I briefly mentioned a philosophy paper earlier (and promised not to tell you about it: I clearly lied). By 1:30 p.m., I need to have written a 15-to-20-page paper on a book of which I have read approximately half. I calculate that, forgoing sleep and limiting myself to a courtesy appearance at tonight's "last day of classes" (for my program, but not my elective--see above about "seeking challenges") celebration, I will have about 12 hours in which to write it.

Timing is indeed everything.