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Productive Procrastination

| Thursday, January 30, 2014

productive-pro-WEBMiko Malabute | The Observer

My earbuds are in; my radar is on. My eyes sweep across South Quad, keeping an eye out for quasi-familiar faces to avoid. Spotted: one bubbly girl from my math tutorial. Her ponytail is bouncing. She is eager to pounce on any chance for social interaction, hoping someone will notice that her water bottle matches her Vera Bradley laptop case. This is serious. My instincts kick in and I cut across one of the diagonals on South Quad, successfully avoiding a chummy run-in.

I am not a social piranha. I am not a nerd. Proof: I had to look up how to spell “piranha,” and Google could not figure out what word to suggest for autocorrect (is “pyrrnaha” really that far off?). I had my ponytail-bouncing, Sperry-sporting days. I would smile at anyone I knew or any cute boys I wanted to know. As a first-semester freshman, I couldn’t understand why I was the only one skipping through campus, waving madly at the girl I stood next to in the pasta line last Tuesday. Then I learned why some students avoid small talk at all costs. After the smile and the hug comes the inevitable inquiry, the “What have you been up to lately?”

Oh, both parties will pat themselves on the back for feigning interest in their Facebook friend’s life. Fewer will listen to or remember the answer to their cordial question. As Notre Dame students, though, both will probably have an exciting and impressive feat to offer offhand. “Oh, I’ve just been perusing Peruvian literature” or “I’m kind of worn out today from my six-hour shift at the lab — you’d think I’d be used to it by now.”

For me, these conversations went much like my freshman racquetball class. I would hit the ball and the ball would come back to hit me. For after my acquaintances dazzled me with eloquent anecdotes, they expected me to share something stupendous. And just like in racquetball, I let the ball drop in my court.

It’s not that my life is boring — it’s just that folding laundry is not on par with interviewing the mayor of Chicago. Do I spend all my time folding laundry? No. So what do I spend my time doing? That is the question.

Confession: I am a procrastinator. But I am not just any procrastinator. No, that would not do. I would call myself a productive procrastinator, much like my grandma would say that she is in active retirement. Complacent procrastinators may resign themselves to a “Breaking Bad” break or a Starbucks run, but productive procrastinators will continue to reject the accepted and attempt the ludicrous.

Being a productive procrastinator is an art — an art that is practiced by many, but recognized by few. Do you color code your drawers instead of writing your philosophy paper? Do you sprint to Rolfs rather than tackle your problem set? Are you reading this article instead of reading “The Odyssey”? If so, you may be a productive procrastinator.

The good thing about productive procrastinators is that we seem to have our lives together. We have picked up every crumb; we have planned out our outfits the night before … the week before … we are not ashamed of our productive procrastinating ways. It’s just that when people ask us what we have been up to, we don’t want to admit that we have been hole-punching for 20 minutes.

But someone has to hole-punch. Someone has to bake muffins. The problem is: that someone is always us. We jump at the opportunity to support our friends at AcoustiCafé or try a spinning class, even if it means pushing off our work — especially if it means pushing off our work. So, while we have probably made origami swans while watching opera, we probably have not started our homework yet.

Productive procrastination is similar to any other art: it can be done well, but one must learn from the masters. Only an expert should attempt to multitask while procrastinating. After a few years of experience, though, one should be able to listen to NPR while crocheting on the elliptical. Don’t try to knit on the treadmill, though. Save that for the professionals.

The occasional self-taught procrastinator can revolutionize the art, similar to how the autodidact Leonardo da Vinci brought a new perspective to painting. Not everyone, however, can create a Mona Lisa. When premature procrastinators try to innovate, the risks they take either fail miserably or usher in an era of efficiency. If they stray from the norm, their actions may be regarded as vulgar, at least ephemerally. Performing jumping jacks while in line at the grocery store may be frowned upon. That doesn’t mean it won’t catch on eventually. Keep in mind that people used to think that all secular music was sinful. Turn on the radio today, and you’ll see that the public, much like Katy Perry’s ex-fiancé, is hot and then cold.

The procrastinator in us loves small talk, but the productive part of us craves to do more with our wasted time. We may avoid talking to acquaintances, since it reveals our less than normal natures and stops us from accomplishing that which need not be accomplished. Once we know them well enough to reveal our amour of multitasking, we enjoy long and meaningful conversations — as long as we can brush our teeth and practice our pliés at the same time.

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About Erin Thomassen

I am a freshman double majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and French. PLS (aka the Notre Dame Book Club) is the history of ideas through literature, philosophy, math and science. It was the perfect major for me, because I couldn't possibly choose one subject and hurt the other subjects' feelings. French was also a natural pick, since I have been prancing around my house under the pretense of performing ballet for eighteen years. If someone asks me what I do in my free time, I will tell them that I run and read. What I actually do is eat cartons of strawberries and knit lumpy scarves. If you give me fresh fruit, we will be friends. If we become friends, I will knit you a scarf for Christmas. It may be lumpy, but it will be in your favorite color. And if enough people become my friend, lumpy scarves might just become a trend.

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