Saturday, February 22, 2014

Whew, another three sentences written . . . I deserve a little break

Pro . . .cras. . .tin. . .ation

I do a lot of interesting reading while I'm in the midst of grant writing. The number of sentences I can write before "needing" a break is inversely proportional to the time remaining before the deadline, starting at about three and increasing exponentially beginning a few days before the deadline. If not for grant and manuscript writing, my knowledge of history, philosophy, Consumer Reports ratings of refrigerators, the 10 best places to retire, the 10 worse things to say on a first date, the Freedom-class littoral combat ship and's selection of V-neck undershirts would be infinitely smaller.

Recently, I ironically found myself reading this on my iPad, having stumbled upon this article while lounging on the living room couch, surfing the net and diligently avoiding completing a grant application due the next day. The article, "Why Writers Are the Worse Procrastinators," was strangely reassuring. I'm a professional writer in a way. Here I have been beating myself up about my chronic procrastination, but it turns out that, if you're a writer, it just comes with the territory.

Much of my training occurred before the advent of online grant submission. Evidence that a lot of my colleagues were fellow procrastinators? Scientists and administrative assistants waiting eagerly by the FedEx pickup box to ensure pickup 5 PM on the day before major grant deadlines. Common knowledge in the local biomedical science community about where to take FedEx packages for the very last after-hours drop-off (I seem to remember that it was at the airport FedEx office). True story: when I was in training, my lab's Principal Investigator missed the last FedEx and UPS pickups the day before a major NIH grant was due. I remember the frantic copying and stapling: even more panicked than usual the day before grants were due. The PI's solution: buy a ticket for a transcontinental  flight that very night to Washington DC, put a postdoctoral fellow on the plane with the application (and all 14 copies, or whatever it was back then) in hand, and send him off to hand-deliver the application to the NIH.

A tip for those of you whose procrastination leads to self-flagellation and misery: read this essay on Structured Procrastination by John Perry, emeritus professor of philosophy at Stanford, and his follow-on book, The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing.  They're both witty, easy reads and, importantly, many people (including me) find that Perry's way of looking at procrastination makes a huge difference in how they think about their procrastination and themselves. My only slight concern is that maybe these writings have lulled me into too much complacency about my procrastination and have perhaps forestalled my eventual self-"cure."