I used to think – erroneously – that I worked best under stress so I used to procrastinate like mad: any mundane or even boring activity was always more pressing than the work I had to do. Deadlines were mythical dates that didn’t have any significance and no attempt was ever made to meet them. In fact, they seemed to be there just to be missed. I worked like that for years; my Paris employer used to send me desperate pneus (the equivalent of telegrams, but for local consumption) asking me to get in touch with her a.s.a.p.; I let the phone ring for hours (you weren’t allowed to leave it off the hook and it was fixed to the wall so you couldn’t unplug it); I ignored every entreaty to finish the work (I never let on that I hadn’t even started); finally, finally, when I judged I had driven everyone nuts for long enough and it was actually time to do the work else there would be no more work to do, ever, I did it – in three weeks instead of three months. At the end of the marathon I used to collapse in a heap on the floor, swearing I would never put myself through that again.
And then I began working for a translation agency (my more faithful readers will be familiar with it) and I started being given deadlines that were two or three days apart. There was no time to procrastinate so I knuckled down and did the work. I haven’t missed a single deadline for 19 years now – where’s the beaming smiley when you need it? – and I know that no one is at their best under stress. It’s an illusion.
I’m currently doing a couple of translations for the BBC. It’s a recurring thing and years ago I used to have at least two whole months to do it, which enabled me to combine it with my agency work. More recently, the BBC deadline (which is decided by someone else) has been getting shorter and shorter just because everyone is always on holiday or on attachment or has a mild cold (see previous posts I’ve written about it), and because producers are the least decisive people in the entire world. As I said, it’s a recurring thing and they know it’s coming every year, but they always act surprised and keep me waiting and waiting and waiting. Until this morning I didn’t have a deadline at all for my current work. It paralysed me completely for a few days. I had the material to work on but I couldn’t do it: I needed to know how long I had so I could pace myself and work out what to do and in what order. The deadline I have now been given is a bit too short to be comfortable but as soon as I got it I felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I did more this afternoon than in the past three days.
We need to know. There is of course a big deadline for each of us; a huge deadline by which everything we’ve always wanted to do should be done if we are to be at peace, but, except in some special cases, it will be kept secret until it suddenly comes upon us. Everything would be so much easier if we did know. Mine is apparently Wednesday 7 July 2027. That’s one deadline I wouldn’t mind missing. (Wanna check yours and get depressed? Log on here)
Slapping the BBC – again! And my old self for making my life more difficult than it should have been!