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Why do today what you can put off ’til tomorrow?

She made her point.

I began a long and illustrious career as a procrastinator in fourth grade at St. Mary’s School in Sherman, Texas. As the hastily crayoned homeworks in a box under my bed would attest, I tended to put assignments off to the very last minute, often doing homework in the car on the way to school. Luckily, it was about a 30-minute drive from Van Alstyne, but those cratered North Texas highways ensured my last-minute efforts were marked by every bump or pothole between the Highway 75 on-ramp and Travis Street.

I don’t recall procrastinating in third grade or earlier, but perhaps we just weren’t given any significant amount of homework those years. Perhaps I was an industrious student and did all my homework early. Or perhaps I’m just getting old. They say the memory is the second thing to go. I forget the first.

But I digress. Back to fourth grade and Mrs. Page’s classroom at the far end of the hall. As some of my fellow “non-traditional” students probably do, I remember fourth grade much like I remember anything from my grade school days – in snippets and snapshots, silent vignettes or sound bites.

Fourth grade was the year we were first allowed to use pens, those horrible erasable kind that neither erased completely or stayed on the page very well. Either due to diligent work (doubtful) or poor penmanship (likely) I had a permanent purply-blue smudge on the second knuckle of my right-hand pinky thanks to those pens.

Fourth grade was also the first section of Texas history. (Apparently Texas is one of the only states that typically teaches two years of state history, but really, how much history do states like Nebraska have?) Texas history with Mrs. Page meant building the battle scene of the Alamo out of Legos and constructing a scrapbook of every tidbit of Texas trivia imaginable on multi-colored construction paper cemented with plenty of Elmer’s glue.

I couldn’t tell you what circumstances transpired to irritate Mrs. Page that day – what assignment I’d half-assed or turned in incomplete. I was a smart kid and usually ended up with good grades, which made it all the easier for teachers to tell when I wasn’t giving 100 percent.

Plus, in fourth grade I was far more concerned with solving whatever Nancy Drew mystery I was reading that week than doing homework. Whatever it was that set Mrs. Page off, she knew just how to punish me.

She gave me one tiny assignment – look up the word “procrastinate” in the dictionary, write out the definition and read it to the class the next day.

You’ve probably guessed by now that Mrs. Page got a pretty good laugh out of her little experiment. Little pig-tailed Polly, who hadn’t remembered to write down the assignment, was going to do it during recess or whatever, stood there reaching for the red tattered Webster’s under the desk and was stopped by an authoritative tsk-tsk-tsk from the front of the room.

It’s a nasty habit, this procrastination business. I wish I could say I learned my lesson back in Mrs. Page’s classroom, but I’m afraid all I remember from that year was that San Jacinto Day is April 21 and the state pie and tree are both pecan.

Through the years, the seemingly harmless act of procrastinating has probably cost me hundreds of hours of sleep (all-nighters for projects I knew about weeks in advance) and hundreds of dollars (late fees or overdraft fees that were completely avoidable). I’ve missed time with family or friends to make deadlines and caused myself undue stress over getting work done at the last minute.

It’s really ridiculous when it’s spelled out like that.

I’d love to blame it on forgetfulness or some philosophical insight into the relativity of time, but alas, I have no good explanation.

Perhaps I’m just a victim of Newton’s first law of motion – “An object at rest tends to stay at rest.” But blaming a late assignment on a dead physicist usually doesn’t fly.

We all do it to some extent. That’s why post offices are mobbed on April 15 and malls are swarmed Christmas eve.

Each course drop or payment deadline here on campus sees lines of students snaking down the halls and every semester hundreds of students wait in lines for hours for late registration when they could have registered at home in their pajamas if they’d acted early.

I don’t know if I improved any back in fourth grade, if Mrs. Page’s clever trick had any effect, but it certainly stayed with me.

I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution this year. Most years I put it off until sometime in mid-March. But in light of this rambling reminiscence, I suppose I should make some sort of effort to reform my lazy ways…

…sooner rather than later.

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