I love a good, classic loading screen. I don’t mean those obnoxiously slow progression bars or the tracker timelines on food delivery apps that halt on each stage for 15 minutes. My favorites are the small, simple graphics that repeat in perpetuity with no discernible end to their progression. The repetitive, continuous motion is oddly calming. I love the little revolving lights that circle around and around, lavishing away the time. Or the hypnotic pulsing atop the TikTok menu as it struggles to load new content.
I love loading screens because, in that ephemeral period of rendering, the stakes are lower than low. It’s a liminal moment, a beat between lines, a time to rest. There are no expectations on you because, by nature of the technology, there’s nothing you can or should be doing in that instant. It’s like the calm before the storm. I know that in a moment, I’ll be forced to reckon with the task at hand, but all I can do in the meantime is wait.
As soon as the application loads, you’re thrust back into the turmoil of anticipated productivity; the clock resumes its incessant ticking. Rest takes on a new name: procrastination. My screen assaults me with a thin, blinking cursor on the fresh Word Doc, mocking and prodding with each flicker. Now you see me, now you don’t. Why won’t you put me to use? While the loading screen represents a brief, sanctioned, finite hiatus, the cursor could blink on in judgment forever.
Sometimes I wish I could dive right into the loading screen and ride the blinking light on its ceaseless track like a digital merry-go-round. More often, however, I feel like the lone cursor, resting on the precipice of potential, flashing in and out of existence like a specter haunting the page as I conjure up my next great passage. If I dwell too long on the pressure of the task, I simply freeze in place.
There is no gradient in the way I experience stress. Whether I have a deadline in three days or three hours, if I’m struck with writer’s block or my ideas won’t calibrate, my anxiety will evoke the same measure of stress. But every time I decide to take a break, to indulge in the luxury of relaxation, I can feel the pressure melt away. That same sense of serenity is renewed every time I let myself push the task off for another day.
I had a friend who told me once that she liked to wear her retainer once a week — no more, no less. She relished the feeling of slight discomfort that came with the sporadic endeavor. Any more often, and her teeth would have molded to their proper places, undermining the purpose of the exercise. Any less often, and she would be denying herself the masochistic joy of the experience.
That’s kind of how I feel about procrastination. I know that eventually, I’ll have to address the task, but there’s a certain thrill in letting the deadline inch closer and closer for a buzzer-beating win. Counterproductive as the strategy may be, the risk is part of the reward.
Stalling is a dangerous vice because its short-term benefits eclipse the long-term consequences. What is the point of punctuality? Why would I ever elect proactivity over procrastination when the former requires so much more effort and the latter packs a more rewarding punch? I can live with the blinking cursor’s nagging admonition, especially when I can simply close my laptop and willfully forget.
When I was in sixth grade, my mom mysteriously vanished from our Thanksgiving celebration early in the morning. It was a full week before my dad explained to my brother and me that our mom had checked into rehab and was seeking counsel for her alcoholism.
I don’t remember my mom’s addiction being an imposition on our family. I was only 11 at the time, and my brother was even younger. Sure, my mom drank on vacations, but I couldn’t yet discern the difference between social drinking and drinking to excess. She never drank and drove, she never embarrassed me, but clearly, the issue was severe enough to warrant treatment. All I knew was that when my mom returned home, she seemed happier and healthier than I’d ever remembered her being. Last week was her 10-year anniversary of sobriety.
I’ve always regarded my mom’s decision to check into rehab as the pinnacle of maturity and self-discipline. She had the remarkable foresight to get ahead of her addiction, addressing the problem while her children were still young before it had the chance to fester any further. As evidenced by this decision, my brother and I were raised in a household that valued accountability and acknowledged the dangers of addiction.
There were no flippant analogies to addiction in my house; no graphic tees with the phrase “chocoholic” or “addicted to naps” plastered across the front. I’ve pondered the weight of this disease since before my adolescent growth spurt. It’s one of, if not the sole reason why I can say with complete sincerity that I have addictive tendencies when it comes to procrastination.
I wasn’t always prone to this behavior. My whole childhood was an exercise in self-censorship and perfectionism. I distinctly remember the first time I ever dared to ask my parents for something without already knowing their answer would be yes. I naturally fell into the mold of a “perfect daughter,” and some part of me was afraid that if I started poking holes in that facade, it would all come crashing down.
I was a top-notch kid. I don’t say this seeking any praise. It’s just true. I got perfect grades, had a diverse set of extracurriculars, worked 30 hour weeks at the local ice cream shop — the whole nine. I did everything that was asked of me above and beyond. I had high expectations for myself.
One night in eighth grade, I asked my parents if I could go to a 9 p.m. movie with a friend. It was a chilly fall school night, and I’d finished all of my homework, but I wasn’t sure if they’d let me go to the late showtime that ended slightly after my curfew. But when they said yes, a whole new world opened up to me. I began to recognize my own agency, particularly as it pertained to abstaining from the expectations that I’d always just assumed were requirements.
In my senior year of high school, I was editor-in-chief of our school’s newspaper. That was when I started pushing my luck with deadlines. On the eve of the first edition, I realized that we were one-story short from filling the pages, so I churned out 1,500 words in a single night and sent the completed edition off to the printing presses. It was a successful bout of simulated procrastination — a gateway into the more egregious offenses to come.
From then on, I procrastinated writing at least one piece (if not two or three) until the week of production. Quite frankly, it was invigorating, because I just kept getting away with it. I was hooked on the thrill of inaction.
The tendency to postpone and binge my responsibilities began seeping into my formal academics. My class had a full year to write our senior theses, but I wrote mine over the course of four afternoons. I crammed for every test the night before. I would accumulate work over weeks and weeks and then hole up in my room for a weekend every month to catch up. And I still graduated with a perfect record.
When I got to college, my self-destructive habits began to catch up with me. A’s turned to B’s turned to a whole semester of sealed-off grades for classes that I barely passed.
I was a sophomore when the pandemic hit campus and students were sent home. For the next two semesters, I did the bare minimum to get through my classes. I would wallow in a depressive state for hours on end, attend Zoom meetings with my camera turned off and whip up a subpar discussion post in 15 minutes before logging off for the weekend.
I cut off contact with every campus organization I’d joined. I didn’t call my parents or pick up when they called me. I would check in every few weeks to let them know I was still alive, but for the most part, I kept everyone at a distance. This was my proverbial “rock bottom.”
Growing up, before I discovered the splendor of edging my responsibilities, productivity and punctuality were my default modes. I never learned how to choose to work. It was like I was functioning on autopilot. Instead, I learned to choose by learning to let go. Yet once I’d let go, I didn’t have the skillset to start back up again. Accountability is so much easier to destroy than it is to create.
Sometimes I wish I’d never realized my agency, the power I have to simply press pause. Maybe then I’d be graduating with a better GPA or a fuller resume. Maybe then I’d be blissfully happy. But I catch myself whenever I lapse into that line of thinking and remind myself of my mom. If I hadn’t gone down this path when I did, I would have had to reckon with it later in life once I’d amassed more to lose.
When you’re addicted to a substance, the treatment is simple: You cut yourself off from the substance completely. This is not to say that the process is easy or inconsequential, but at least you have a road map. When your vice is something like procrastination, which will always exist as an option, there is no way to avoid its persistent beckoning.
During those few semesters, the urge to procrastinate was debilitating. Whenever I was overtaken by a passing thought of guilt, I brushed it off by doubling down in self-righteous inaction. I’ve since come to terms with the fact that guilt has value. It reminds you that what you’re doing is wrong, and encourages you to reverse course. I had to stop taking offense at reasonable criticism, even when it came from my own conscience.
I am still making an effort every day to be better than I was yesterday. I am not always successful. For example, I turned this essay in over 12 hours after it was due (sorry Statement friends). But the biggest thing I’ve learned from my “lost semesters” is that yesterday’s failure does not give me a free pass to make the same mistakes today. I have to choose to work all over again every single day.
What is the benefit of punctuality? Improved mental health, for one. Why choose proactivity over procrastination? To prove to yourself that you are capable of it. Perhaps that is easier said than done, but at least I know it’s possible. At this stage, that’s enough for me.
It’s fun to submit an assignment days before it’s due, with Canvas congratulating me with digital confetti for a job well done. The TV shows I used to employ as a distraction from the compounding workload are better without that constant twinge of anxiety looming over me as I watch. Loading screens are an earned respite when you know you’ve been working hard, and the blinking cursor is stripped of its power when it’s met with a piece of writing that I’m proud of.
Statement Correspondent Melanie Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.