It was 1:30 in the afternoon, a time when perfectly sane people are hard at work, but that only partially described me. I was wholly crazed and wild-eyed, tussling with pages and pages of research I’d compiled for a paper I was writing in my pursuit of a master’s degree in African-American studies. My professor was a short, stoic Ghanaian man—I could only recall seeing him smile once and even that was more of a grimace of politeness than genuine glee—and he made one thing clear: anybody who didn’t have the project on his desk by 4 p.m. could forget about getting any kind of grade, much less that desirable first letter of the alphabet.
He’d explained the details of the assignment a good three weeks before it was due and I’d jotted copious notes to reference when I was ready to get started. The latter proved much harder than the former. I piddled away those 21-odd days leading up to the big deadline doing only heavens knows what when I could’ve been working incrementally towards getting ‘er done and done thoughtfully, carefully and introspectively. That would’ve been too much like right.
Instead, I found myself pounding out the first marginally coherent thoughts that came to mind a day and a half beforehand in order to make page count. Later for impressing him with my grasp of information and personal insight. For a little more than 24 hours, I couldn’t sleep, I barely ate, I didn’t set foot in a shower and—I ain’t too ashamed to admit it—I wasn’t even thinking about swishing a brush around the inside of my mouth. Every minute was emblazoned with urgency and none could be spared for the sake of self-care and hygiene.
When I had finally scratched out something resembling a finished product, I burned up the highway in what I slept in, hair sprazzled around my head like cactus spines, and made it to his door at 3:48. He wasn’t even there.
I am a perfector of that most classic form of self-sabotage—procrastination. It’s been a cemented hurdle in my academic career before it crept up in my professional career, and it’s one of the few things that’s regularly made me curse my own fool self out. If tradition had its way this New Year’s Eve, I would’ve been sprawled across the living room floor with some colored Sharpies and a piece of white poster board, scrawling out a detailed list of goals to accomplish before it was time to perform the ritual again next December. That wasn’t the move for 2014.
Instead, I’ve declared that this will be the year I free myself of the one overarching habit that’s hampered me and, as described above, driven me to behave like a home training-less wolf woman. The new year can bring with it a lot of motivation and encouragement, which is refreshing and exciting and reenergizing. At the same time, the blank canvas of days ahead can also inspire us to besiege ourselves with a litany of unrealistic expectations and resolutions to reinvent major components of who we are. Sometimes it doesn’t take all of that. Accomplishing one major goal in the space of one year can make a tremendous, lasting impact and unblock the impediments we’ve constructed that slow or stop our own progress. Me included, of course.
My name is Janelle and procrastination is my hangup. It’s jacked up plenty of my plans and created unnecessary turbulence in progress towards things I vehemently claim to want. It’s a crutch to keep me from stepping into something new and this year, I’m going to start being more cognizant of the triggers that crop up when I’m about to start sabotaging myself. I’m vowing that I’ll do my best—which includes giving myself wiggle room—I’ll stop cheating myself of the opportunity to grow and I will no longer condense the wealth of learning experience into a microwaved segment of time. And no matter what deadline I’m up against, I’ll never put myself in such a crunch that I can’t afford to brush my doggone teeth.
There’s always time, even in the middle of the same ol’ same ol’ routine, to stop setting yourself up for your own disappointments and make better choices for yourself. Don’t let the time of year define your ambition. Make a move. Do the bare minimum—it’s still more than what you were doing before. Just do it already. Move on. Move up. Move along. Chile, just move.
Janelle Harris is a writer, blogger and editor, and the owner of The Write or Die Chick , a boutique editorial services agency. She’s also a single mother, a proud Washington, DC girl and a longsuffering Kanye West fan. Chat her up on Facebook or Twitter.