That’s right, fellow procrastinators — we’ve reached the perfect storm.

Welcome to the perfect storm!

That’s what I like to call the stage in any project where shit absolutely must get done, and the pressure to complete it is so immense that there’s no room for error. Couple that with the amount of things that have to happen to pull off your task, and you’ve got yourself a perfect storm.

I usually don’t like to get here, and for the most part, I try not to. Sure, sometimes I’ll take on a project with a very quick turnaround that’s basically a perfect storm from day one. But for the most part, I’m pretty okay at getting little things done one by one so I don’t have to spend a couple of 18-hour days making it all happen.

A History of the Perfect Storm

My first perfect storms happened in undergrad. I wasn’t particularly bad at managing time, but I didn’t enjoy a lot of my classes. In those instances, I would wait until the day before something was due and stay up all night writing a paper. Because writing is kind of my thing, I could do this relatively easily. I wrongly assumed that others had this ability. On one occasion, I told a girl in my Medieval Art History class that I started my paper on the sarcophagus of Junius Bassus the night before it was due, and still got an A. She had spent three weeks on her paper on the great mosque of Córdoba, and even included some photos she took of it when she studied in Spain the semester before. I don’t know what grade she received on that project, but I do know that she never spoke to me again.

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My final semester of my Master of Professional Writing program was a 3-month perfect storm. I had to complete my master’s project novel in one semester, lest I be forced to extend my program a whole semester to complete it. While I did have some friends who took that route, mama wasn’t about to pay any more money on that program of study. So, I wrote a novel in 3 months. And during those 3 months, I worked as a grad assistant for 20 hours a week, and waited tables for 20-30 hours a week. The novel I wrote wasn’t great. In fact, nothing I created in grad school was that great. (But that’s kind of what student work is — not great stuff where the student figures out what it is they want to create.) If you ever find yourself in the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma, wander up to the library on the second floor. You can totally find my master’s thesis project in there. I think it’s called “A Summer in Belleville.” I can’t remember though. Like most perfect storms, I’ve completely blocked it out after the fact.

While I was working on my Master of Library and Information Studies, I was also working full-time as a ghostwriter for perhaps the sketchiest publishing company on the face of the earth. During my first semester, I was enrolled in the Archives class. As I had always done, I waited until the day a 20-page paper was due to start working on it. I called in sick to work that day, turned on the TV and blared the first season of Downton Abbey, and then proceeded to research and write a 20-page paper between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM, when the online dropbox closed. I got the paper finished and turned in on time. I got an A-. I could not tell you what the assignment was, or what I actually wrote about though.

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Remember that sketchy publishing company I mentioned? Well, while I was employed there, our standard operating procedure meant that I was writing two books at a time each month. And I had to turn in a quarter of each book each week to my supervisor. (The workload was insane and I got so stressed and fat while working there.) One Friday, I hadn’t even started writing either of the books I was supposed to turn in that afternoon. I had spent the previous 4 days on the phone or in meetings doing all manner of stupid stuff that prevented me from actually doing the job I was hired to do. So, I chugged a mug of coffee on my way into the office, and set two energy drinks on my desk, and got to work. By the end of the 9-hour workday, I sent off 15,400 words worth of writing to my boss. He then read some of those words to my coworkers during our meeting that following Monday, and commended me for the great work I was doing.

I’m not saying any of this to brag. I’m just saying that I think I tend to do better under pressure than I give myself credit for. Well, that and I’ve spent like the past 22 years of my life utterly obsessed with writing, so I’m perhaps more fit to complete writing tasks under pressure.

The Current Perfect Storm

As of this morning, I have 5 days until the semester starts. That means I have 5 whole days to set up my online learning management system, configure the online quizzes that come with the book, write a syllabus, figure out the course schedule, write all the assignments and rubrics, and get at least my first week of lectures all set.

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I would like to state for the record that I intended to get started with all this back in July. But with teaching reading classes, and pretty much feeling like I only slept 3 hours this entire summer, it didn’t happen.

Currently, my record for setting up a course is 4 hours. But that’s kind of what has to happen when a department has an instructor quit two days before the semester and then scrambles to find you.

Since this is my fourth semester to teach this class, I’m not stressing the perfect storm as much as I would be otherwise. A lot of what I have to do is just re-tooling what I was working with the semester before. Regardless, I’d like you to wish me luck, and maybe buy me a coffee if you see me out in the real world with a very tired and stressed look on my face.

What about you? Do you like to work and get shit done in a perfect storm?

7 Responses

  1. We’ve talked about it. I’ve been trying for years to break myself of this, but I think at this point it’s time I admit that I’m crazy addicted to the sick rush I get finishing something so close to a deadline. It’s getting worse every time. Most recently it was 25,757 words in one day. Like you, I am not bragging. I think this may be an illness ?

    Also, all those papers in college? Yeah, that’s what set me off on this track. Freshman year I struggled to get a paper done and ended up writing 5k words in less than an hour and running to turn it in. Grade? “A++ Best this semester.” WHAT, DUDE? ??

    1. Good luck with your latest storm. You know you’ll get it done. It’ll happen. If you need to check in with someone (sometimes this helps me) feel free to email.

    2. OMG exactly! They let you know how great you’re doing when you’ve basically done a fevered rush of garbled nonsense. I honestly think it’s all the compliments I got from professors that have reinforced this habit. And sure, I’d love to be able to start way sooner, but in the back of my head, there’s this little nugget of knowledge that knows I can start the day it’s due and everything will turn out fine. And then I exploit that.

  2. This is exactly how I have functioned as a student and professional for the past 11 years, basically since I was 18 years old and a freshman in college. It didn’t get really bad till sophomore year when all of my history classes had strong writing components. I would sit down at 11 pm with a pot of coffee, fresh pack of cigarettes and bang out 15-20 pages on Imperial Russia while my roommate slept through the night. Even now as I get my second master’s degree and work full time, I am starting my papers at the very last minute, 20 pages on the Patron Library relationship due at midnight? Hey let’s start it at noon! I think that pressure means there is no room for error, I’m hyper focused, the rest of the world does not exist. And much like you, it always works, I always get the A. Why change something that has worked for literally a decade?

    1. Oh man! I totally agree. If it works, why change? I do worry that some day people like us will find out that we’ve shaved years off our lives by raising our blood pressure so much to get to that level of hyper focus though.

  3. Procrastinators unite! I’m the same way…I find I work a lot better under extreme pressure. It’s probably not good for my health but I can really get shit done.

    I find it ironically funny that while you should be working on setting up your course, you’re writing about putting off setting up your course! Ha! But clearly, you are a machine and will get it done with time to spare.

    Good luck and God speed!

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