I have a deadline today.
I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. They totally stress me out. If I set a timer on my phone to help me focus, all I can focus on is the blasted timer. I’m like a kid playing with a Jack in the box. I know it’s going to go off at any moment and scare the pants off me. Meanwhile, my deadline is only getting closer.
At the same time, I depend on deadlines to motivate me to finish what I start. Some people can sail effortlessly through life finishing one thing after another with nobody pushing them from behind. Not me. I am a card-carrying procrastinator who needs a good deadline to propel me to the finish line.
While procrastinating this week, I read a story about a college student who had a midnight deadline for an assignment. A student after my own heart, they finished in the nick of time and submitted the assignment at 11:45 pm. The professor responded by saying that the assignment was obviously a last-minute effort, and he was marking it as late. Oh, man, I would have flunked out of college if I had to adhere to that standard.
I had a college professor who assigned midnight deadlines. This was back in the Dark Ages of the mid-1980s, when students like me struggled to survive with no internet, no cellphones to alert the professor that the paper was on its way and only sketchy word processing down at the computer center. It was safer to use my trusty manual typewriter with its built-in printer. To finish a five-page paper, I had to write it out by hand, using an elaborate system of asterisks and long, trailing arrows to edit. “Cut and paste” had a more literal meaning in those days. When I was done writing, I wasn’t done. I faced another couple of hours of banging away at those typewriter keys like Chico Marx playing the piano. Woe unto me if I made a typo. Both correction tape and my magic eraser pen would leave traces, so the professor would know I had made a mistake and then corrected it. I had to leave enough time before midnight to trot down the street to the professor’s house, which luckily was near campus, and slip the finished paper into his mailbox. My classmates and I often wondered if he really came outside at midnight to collect the papers, or if he checked in the morning when he went out for the newspaper. I never stuck around to find out. He might have caught me turning in the assignment at 11:45 p.m. and concluded that I was submitting a last-minute effort.
Of course, it’s not only students who face looming deadlines. You might have a project at work, your wedding gown to finish hemming before the ceremony in two hours (hems are overrated), or our shared national deadline, Tax Day on April 15. Little known fact: the IRS has to adhere to deadlines as well. Did you know that by law the IRS has 45 days to issue a tax refund, after which they owe the taxpayer interest? Wait, what? They pay 6% interest, which is better than my bank is offering. I can see the slogans now: “Invest in the IRS!” “Put your money on Uncle Sam to win!” “Max out your tax with deadline hacks!” Simply file on paper at the last minute, and chances are good that the IRS won’t be able to keep their deadline. You might not get your money before Thanksgiving, but you might clean up on some interest.
Cooking is another area where deadlines come into play. Okay, maybe you’re not a contestant on a cooking show where you’re expected to bake a three-layer cake in 25 minutes using only four ingredients including jicama. Thursday night dinner can be a race with the clock. If your spaghetti noodles are done half an hour before the tomato sauce is ready, and the family needed to eat 45 minutes ago in order to get to a Little League game, you’ve failed to meet your suppertime deadline.
Yikes — my timer just went off. Let’s see if I can meet that deadline.
• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother, and author who writes cozy mysteries under the pen name “Greta McKennan.” She likes to look at the bright side of life.