“How long is the paper?” I asked, warily.
“Oh, somewhere between fifty and sixty pages.”
“You’re kidding, right?” I gasped.
“No,” he responded nonchalantly, “I have all my notes. I just need to put it together.”
Sunday at midnight I discovered He wasn’t kidding. The baby, just a year old had finally fallen asleep an hour earlier and just as I’d typed all weekend, between diaper changes and feeding, the pages kept coming.
Added to the stress of trying to finish this project on time, the only thing at my disposal was an ancient typewriter which acted older with each key strike. Fatigue, a degree of frustration at my husband’s procrastination and his inability to type, combined with my knowledge that I didn't work well under that kind of pressure nearly overwhelmed me. At that moment I wanted to throw the whole thing in the garbage and just sleep. Still, I doggedly continued to type until the final sentence; the final period.
How could he write so well with so little anxiety while I was a basket of nerves? He showed no apparent concern the weekend was nearly over and I still had pages left he hadn't even written yet? How could he do his best work under these conditions?
I, by contrast, prefer pacing myself over procrastination and the eleventh hour elements of stress. I plan a time schedule in which to work allowing ample time to finish my project – or papers - with as little stress as possible. Sometimes I even finish early. Each scheduled time period, I work toward my goal, even if only seeing a small bit of accomplishment. At least I’ve worked on it, coming ever closer to the finished product with minimal pain.
Stress is defined by Webster as “a state in which a strong demand is made on the nervous system.” Stress, then, isn’t always a bad thing, although too much can send a person over the edge. It is the driving force in us, as humans, helping us achieve. The right amount of stress creates excitement, helping to keep us focused and disciplined as we strive toward our goals. It can even make us competitive and more productive.
My daughters, I am loathe to admit, followed in their father’s footsteps, especially my overachiever. To my amazement, her best papers, with grades of 95+ were written the night before they are due, often without notes. She, like her dad, seemed to thrive on this kind of stress. My other daughter procrastinated as well, but not quite as much. Still, she was successful. How did they do it?
All through middle and high school, I fussed with my daughters over their procrastination. "It’s a bad habit to get into," I’d admonish, worrying, that like me, they’d fold under the pressure. Even in college, history repeated itself. It was still the eleventh hour students burning the midnight oil to get the project finished for the next day.
“Why,” I'd ask, “did you not start earlier?” I never seemed to get an adequate answer. Starting earlier just never fit into their plans. They had other things to do, other places to be. So I watched, in both horror and delight as they worked, without ever being over-wrought or troubled they would not get the job done, on time, and done right.
Years after the first eleventh hour paper written by my husband and the “A” he received, I realize my husband still has the eleventh hour syndrome. Whether it’s a woodworking project, cleaning the garage or repair job, it is almost without fail, not until he must finish it or “in the mood” to get it done. Yet, as before, he always does an outstanding job.
"It's all good" I have finally decided. As long as my husband and children are successful and happy what does it matter whether they pace themselves reasonably, or expend an undetermined amount of energy during the eleventh hour to complete a task well done? I’ll take the slow, metered road, getting a little done each day while they take the breathless road, giving it all they’ve got, at that moment, that they must.