In the middle of the night, I went to the bathroom, and, afterwards, when I pushed the toilet handle, nothing happened. I took off the tank lid, expecting to see a broken chain, and discovered there was no water. I checked the faucet of the intake pipe; it was open. I checked the bathtub and sink taps; water flowed from these, just not to the toilet. It was a mystery. I shrugged, used a wastebasket to flush, and went back to bed.
In the morning, I put “Call Plumber” on my To-Do list. For weeks I meant to make the call, but I didn’t get around to it. I told myself it was because I had so much work to do (even though I know the call would only take a few minutes), but I knew the truth.
I am a procrastinator.
I always have been, and I suspect I always will be.
I pay a financial price for it. I put off getting the car inspected, and received a warning. I put off the inspection, and received a fine. I didn’t pay the fine, and the letters started to come. Finally, to prevent the car being towed, I had to pay hundreds of dollars for what should have been a thirty dollar obligation.
I pay a professional price. I miss submission deadlines. I have manuscripts that I have finished and not sent out. I have half-drafted pieces that I need to complete. I have ideas that I haven’t started writing at all.
I pay a social price. I have friendships that are deteriorating because I’ve been meaning for months, even years, to write a long letter or email. I’ll be invited to parties or events, but not get around to responding until it’s too late.
My family pays a price as well. It can take months for me to fix a bike chain, a skateboard, a burnt-out light bulb, or, say, a toilet.
And yet there also are advantages. I’m not asked to do certain tasks because I have a reputation for being unreliable. Other ones end up not needing to be done all. Anyone who has returned from vacation and worked through backed-up emails knows this. Respond to one immediately and later in the queue there will be another that says to ignore the earlier message. Sometimes when we quickly address a problem without fully understanding it, we make it worse. If we put it off, we find we have a better sense of possible solutions. “Sleep on it,” the procrastinator’s slogan, can be excellent advice.
In fact, I suspect procrastination may be the way a psyche provides balance. The primal urges and hungers drive a person to action; the procrastination mechanism, whatever it may be, says, “Wait a minute. Slow down. What’s the rush?”
Fundamentally, procrastinators are optimists. We believe that we have time, that there will be a tomorrow. Rather than being driven by the fear, panic, and urgency of “live each day as if it’s your last,” we wander through our days with the belief that there will be more…more days…more time. We’re wrong, of course. There will be a final day, but when it comes, I’m not sure that we’ll feel better about it because we mowed the lawn that morning.
I never did get the toilet fixed. Weeks later, I absent-mindedly used it again in the middle of the night. And I absent-mindedly tried to flush . . . and it did. At some point, the water had returned. The tank was full. Even in my sleepy state, I was stunned by this minor miracle. The next morning I crossed “Call Plumber” off my list and felt a sense of accomplishment.