OK, Universe. I get the message. Yet again, you've sent me a sign that I really need to work on my approach to deadlines. I've always been a deadline-motivated person-- which is not the same thing as a procrastinator (although I've done that too, on occasion, about certain tasks). Staying up late the night before a paper is due to write it is different in cause, experience, and consequences than procrastinating on grading a stack of papers.

I learned early on from watching my parents that this was how you did large projects -- you worked steadily leading up to the big crunch, and then you stayed up late. I stayed up late for the very first paper I ever wrote (in fourth grade, although I had to stay up not for the composition but for the actual writing -- we were getting graded on handwriting and I had to recopy my whole paper, slowly and laboriously).

So, throughout my school years, I worked in adrenaline-crunch mode, cranking out a lot of work just in time to meet the deadline. But I never missed a due date, never asked for extensions. The fear of the deadline was motivating enough.

Graduate school started messing with all of that, as it became clear that some of our profs actually preferred that you take incompletes, or considered that your work couldn't possibly be good enough if you turned it in by end of semester. Due dates became these slippery half-fictional beasts that weren't so scary after all. And that was perhaps my downfall.

In the last few years, I've realized that I have less and less tolerance for the deadline crunch, at both the mental and physical level. I just can't stay up as late at night, I just don't bounce back as well the next day, and the adrenaline rush isn't as fun. I'm too old to live that way. I've been gradually realizing this but it's going to take a while to figure out how to really change all of my work habits -- counting from fourth grade, that's three decades of writing practices I have to unlearn.

So, since I've been slow about this, the Universe has been sending me some not-so-subtle messages. Remember when my mom needed sudden surgery and I had to drop everything and go and take care of her? I had a small project due the following week, a book review I'd been asked to write 2 months previous. I had put off working on it until the semester was over, until I thought I'd have 10 days clear to read the book and write the review. Ha! said the Universe, You should have written it during the first month it was assigned to you.

This weekend a friend's been visiting us from out of town. All week long I was busy with some organizational projects (clearing out files, getting some new shelves at home and rearranging a lot of our household stuff) and also doing some major spring cleaning. None of this was exactly because my friend was visiting, but her arrival did function as a due date for getting the house into presentable order. (Nothing like reorganizing to create new chaos, at least temporarily). What did the Universe do? Made me stumble and sprain my ankle 8 hours before her arrival, before I'd completed the vacuuming and tub-scrubbing and other cleaning chores I'd planned for the half-day before she came. In the end, I suppose it worked out -- I got to spend a few hours reading and working on the couch with my foot propped up, so I was less irritable than if I'd been doing chores all day. And if she's horrified about the state of our house, she's hidden it fairly well. But it's just another lesson. I have to learn to do things early.

I've been starting small -- working on getting to appointments early (the key seems to be always having reading material with me, so as to lessen my social anxiety about waiting). But I need to develop a plan so that I can meet my next deadline with ease and grace and not feel stressed or have to stay up late or give up yoga or anything else. I guess that's what I can try to map out during the next few days when I won't be able to go to the gym or on dog walks while my ankle heals.

And please, don't tell me just to set an earlier deadline. If I could do that effectively, don't you think I would already be doing it? I've tried and I always use up the cushion of time because I know it's there. Focusing on all the things that are unpleasant to me now about working for a deadline might be helpful -- a model of what not to do.