This I Believe

Bonnie - San Antonio, Texas
Entered on February 26, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe that I did learn something by waiting until the last minute.

Mama said “You never learn anything that way.” I heard this on the occasional Sunday evening from beyond my bedroom door while working on the [fill in the blank with “5-color political map of the world,” “book report,” or “complete Science Fair project,” for example] that would be turned in first thing tomorrow. Usually, it would be punctuated by at least a “young lady.” If she was in rare form, I’d get a bonus lecture on the importance in “Quality with a capital ‘Q’” –whatever that was.

I’m not sure whether Mama was deliberately holding back the truth, or was simply mistaken. But I did learn several things. You do learn something. And not just the huge gap in the quality of work that’s delivered with a long lead time compared to a short one. You do, in fact, learn by doing. And by repeatedly procrastinating, I set myself up for learning what has turned out to be a valuable job skill. Dealing with my own periodic bouts of junior high and high school procrastination has helped me develop some practices that serve me well. These days I deal with the effects of my own or someone else’s procrastination with a reputation as a “fixer” who can take care of other people’s last-minute lapses.

I’ve learned to make use of shortcuts, always try to have a “plan B,” and to evaluate the demands in front of me to determine what’s really important at the moment. I’ve learned to quickly assess the resources at hand and figure out what I can produce with what’s on hand.

Nowadays you can fill in the blank with the grown-up-real-world-equivalents of the colored map, book report, and science project. It’s the late-breaking memo my boss just hasn’t gotten around to drafting. (Just use a template. It needs to be organized and grammatically correct, but probably not awe-inspiring.) It could be some recent research that didn’t merit enough interest for anyone else to produce an executive summary. (Keep it brief, and extremely “top line.” That way it gets done, probably with the added feature of being an actual summary.) Oh, and for that hugely vital project originally slated for 9 months of development that now has to be done in 6…well, let’s see: they want it good, and fast, and cheap. But they can’t have all three equally. You know they want fast, so now they have to decide on some trade-off between “good” and “cheap.” If it’s up to you to decide, just make a decision, and get it done.

But Mama really did have it right in one respect: I’ve learned to make last-minute scrambling the exception instead of the rule: that way, when it’s really needed, I’m not already exhausted from the previous manufactured emergency.