Ky’s (Somewhat Poignant) Guide to the Powers of Preparation and Procrastination

Kyle Ledoux
Oct 12 · 12 min read

(Also inconsistently referred to as Ky’s Guide to Starting Over 1.2 in future annotations)

A Prime Marker of Accomplishment

The desk around me was cluttered, to use a careful choice of optimistic phrasing. It was cluttered with books rife with makeshift bookmarks, pages in various states of dog-ear, and water-stained cover jackets. It was cluttered with notes copied meticulously in notebooks, diagrams scratched out on loose sheets of paper, and “urgent” reminders hastily scrawled on sticky notes, adorning the fringes of my monitors. Unwashed mugs, previously filled with warm ham juice stood sentry to the crumbs of many a late-night sandwich, which now lie scattered among the piles of notes, and lost forever in crevices between the keys of my keyboard.

An outside observer might have looked at the “organizational challenge” of my desk and concluded that this desk assuredly belonged to a person who spent too many nights up late, cackling to themselves in the thin hours of the coming morning as they typed out the intricate history for their unpublished, 2500 page fantasy novel. This observer might also have suspected the unique olfactory experience of the room wasn’t strictly from the mugs of ham juice forgotten under a stack of loose papers, but from a forgotten shower, or several.

This outside observer couldn’t have been more wrong, however! My fantasy novel is well over 3000 pages long, thank you very much. “What about the showers?”, you say? Not important! Because this desk was a mark of progress, for I had just spent the past few months studying, admittedly like a madman, the coursework for Launch School’s first class: Ruby 101. The desk was, admittedly, an area slated for future improvement, but it symbolized a threshold I had crossed; I had finished all the requisite coursework and completed the course! The piles of loose papers, the stacks of books, the remnants of half eaten meals, they were all a testament to the amount of time I had put into the endeavor and the content I had learned.

As I sat there, hunched in the dim light of my recent accomplishment, I proceeded to read on about the next stop in my studies: the 109 Exam. I learned as I read through preparatory material and blog posts, that this test “sorts out the wheat from the chaff”, both tests are “difficult but fair”, and that students frequently run out of time for both. I continued on, rereading the sections about the testing rules, structures, and consequences. I began to wonder to myself:

“What if I fail?”

“What if I’m not ready and I make a total nitwit of myself?”

“Eeegads! You can be asked to leave the program if you get B+s !?”

The pressure began to build as the questions and doubts and fears swirled in my brain. So naturally, I did what any reasonable person should think to do under such circumstances: I stood up, took a deep breath, looked at my reflection in the mirror, and vowed to myself, that I would find something, anything else to do.

A Fortuitous Coincidence

It just so happened that as I stood in my study cave, pacing in tight circles, desperately seeking anything that required my immediate and unceasing attention, there was a knock on the heavy iron door. I cautiously opened it, and who should stand there but my dear friend, Reginald.

A short stout man with a monocle and a thick mustache holds a loft a flyer “190th Annual Ornithoptery & Octopus Dressage”
A short stout man with a monocle and a thick mustache holds a loft a flyer “190th Annual Ornithoptery & Octopus Dressage”
I am the one who knocks, and then proceeds to talk about octopuses…

“Dear Friend! How the time has crept up on me! The 190th Regional Ornithoptery and Octopus Dressage Competition and Festival is practically here. I have not two months until it arrives! I haven’t built my Ornithopter, nor developed a routine for my precious Olga.”

As he stood there, huffing and exasperated, the light sweat of mild panic glistening on his brow, I took one look back to the desk adorned with study materials and realized in a moment of unadulterated, unbiased judgement, that the 190th Regional Ornithoptery and Octopus Dressage Competition and Festival (or R.O.O.D.C.A.F., for the unacquainted) was clearly more pressing and demanded my direct intervention.

A disorganized desk covered with papers, books, half-eaten food, and notes. Two monitors display haphazard code
A disorganized desk covered with papers, books, half-eaten food, and notes. Two monitors display haphazard code

I grabbed my cap, took a road-pickle from the fridge, and set out in lock step with Reginald, the breeze blowing gentle come-hither kisses and the cloistered desk, with its impending responsibility, falling delightfully farther behind with every step.

An open door with the shadows of Ky and Reginald walking away stretched across the floor
An open door with the shadows of Ky and Reginald walking away stretched across the floor

The walk to Reginald’s portside manor was less than the pleasant escape I thought it might be; Reginald was quite flustered with the prospect of the R.O.O.D.C.A.F. coming up and him not feeling ready. It seems that every year he finds himself in the same predicament, one year older and still unprepared for an event that he has participated in annually, without fail.

“I mean honestly… how does one even prepare for something like this?” he mumbled as we strolled up the lane and entered his workshop.

A fieldstone manor covered in ivy; the walls lurch and lean, there is an observatory and smokestacks belching smoke upward
A fieldstone manor covered in ivy; the walls lurch and lean, there is an observatory and smokestacks belching smoke upward
A busy workshop cluttered with bookshelves, scrolls and supplies; a tank with and octopus inside, the name tag says OLGA
A busy workshop cluttered with bookshelves, scrolls and supplies; a tank with and octopus inside, the name tag says OLGA

This question stuck in my mind as I perused the old lab. The room was a large hodgepodge of shelves and workbenches, with loose parts and tools arranged around the room in a fashion that could only be described as “creatively disturbed”. Scraps of building materials and copper pipes of various diameters were spread across any surface not occupied by opened books. Large bookshelves towered over the workshop, while flickering brass lanterns cast light on the several saltwater tanks bubbling pleasantly. A lone octopus sat nonplussed amid the sea grass in one tank.

“It really is a simple thing, Reginald. You need to start with what you know, is all!”

It struck me as quite obvious that you cannot possibly prepare for an event that you don’t know the details of. We needed to start by asking some basic questions and identifying what the events are at a very basic level. What needs to be done? What are the rules? What in the name of the gods is octopus dressage?

Ornithoptery and Octopus Dressage are two different events that share some similarities. The design of an ornithopter requires understanding of the principles of physics and aeronautics to correctly calculate the lift generated by the wings, the weight to wing-span ratio, etc. Octopus Dressage also requires careful calculation, but these differ slightly in that they are of how long the octopus’ tentacles can extend and the force of suction generated by their suction cups on one’s face when discontented.

Reginald ponders overlapping hordes of mathematical formulas, cut to Reginald trying to pull Olga from his face
Reginald ponders overlapping hordes of mathematical formulas, cut to Reginald trying to pull Olga from his face

Building an ornithopter takes strict knowledge of a skillset and applies it in a solitary environment, whereas Octopus Dressage requires knowledge of skills applied in a real-time environment where one must respond to change and adapt in the moment.

Why is this important?

Because they both share similar skill-sets. Yes, you heard me, similar skill-sets, but the catch being (yes there is always a catch, get used to it) that they are very different applications of shared skills. You can’t rely on your knowledge of sailing and bowline knots to help you fasten a three-point anchor 300 feet up the rock wall; there are overlapping skills (knot-tying for those of you whose attention spans are beginning to wane) but mastery of one does not necessarily translate into the other. This event is similar in that way!

With me thus far? Great! Let’s continue.

Ok, having figured out what the events are, we needed to think about another crucial aspect of preparing for any event: What is the scope of each event?

Without understanding what the boundaries were for both the Ornithopter and the Octopus Dressage, it would have been impossible to know if Reginald was even ready for either event!

Reginald points to a large volume on the shelf behind, a huge rule-book crashes to the ground, sending up clouds of dust.
Reginald points to a large volume on the shelf behind, a huge rule-book crashes to the ground, sending up clouds of dust.

After consulting the prestigious tome of rules, regulations and bylaws, and combing through many sub-rules and appended clauses, we were able to determine that all of the rules essentially boiled down to a few big ones:

Ornithopter:

  • The airborne vehicle must generate thrust and lift through the motion of wings and not artificial propulsion
  • The ornithopter must be mechanized; there is no use of “applied organics” tolerated for any portion of the event

Octopus Dressage:

  • The performing octopus must perform the 4 customary movement patterns: the 4 x4 Slink, the Alternating Rotation, the Sushi Roll, and the Freestyle Slosh
  • The performing octopus must be outside of a tank for the duration
  • The performing octopus must follow the commands of the trainer for the duration of the routine.
Two pages of a manual, the first shows an ornithopter with a check, the second a basket held aloft by birds with an “X”
Two pages of a manual, the first shows an ornithopter with a check, the second a basket held aloft by birds with an “X”
Don’t even think about it Roald !

AHA! With these rules outlined, we were finally ready to start the preparations in earnest!

Before I could speak, Reginald flew into action, a frenzy of thin limbs and shuffling papers. Texts were pulled from shelves, their delicate bindings creaking a weak protest as they were flung open and their pages thumbed through faster than any librarian would think proper. Techne Ornithos by Autolycus of Eritrea, Le Grimoire De L’Envol by Jean-Luc Boisebriand-Pretentieux, Applied Physics of the Ornithopter by Louise Lyndon, “O” is for Octopus; a Beginners Guide to the Art of Octopus Dressage, and many other priceless books were opened, skimmed, and quickly lost in a heap of gilt pages.

This cavalier approach to study took me quite by surprise; Reginald couldn’t possibly hope to crash his way through over 400 years of knowledge in one go!

And what about the Octopus Dressage; a good routine takes a significant amount of forethought and practice. Surely he couldn’t be thinking of-

Reginald explains his plan to improvise, Olga looks unimpressed. She has somehow acquired a telescope in her tank…
Reginald explains his plan to improvise, Olga looks unimpressed. She has somehow acquired a telescope in her tank…

At this point I felt I had to step in, and no, not just because leaving Reginald to his own devices would leave me with no, ahem, valid excuse to postpone my own studying. But rather, because I recognized some serious issues with Reginald’s methods of preparation and wanted to provide guidance, as any good friend and amateur dilettante of the R.O.O.D.C.A.F. would!

I approached Reginald’s desk, ducking under a 2nd edition printing of Fly Like an Eagle; 107 Examples of Ornithopters in Pop Culture as it sailed to the “completed” pile, and stopped him before he could pull another tome from the shelf. I presented him with the few things I had noticed in this short period and gently suggested a few alternative methods he should try moving forward, provided he didn’t want to plunge into the sea when his ornithopter came apart mid-flight.

There are several areas he had already missed in his rushed review of material; the ideal arc of wings was untouched, and he hadn’t even thought about surface area to texture. On top of that, he had pointedly tossed Gear & Gearing with nary a glance because he found gear ratios and logical assembly to be the most challenging part of the build. I pointed these out with a light tisk-tisking.

“Well what should I do then, old chap?” Reginald answered somewhat gruffly.

Happy to help, and not at all seeking a way to further my procrastination, I obliged. There were a few things that Reginald would be crazy not to do to prepare for an event of this caliber. The first was to take time to review all of his content thoroughly, not just skimming through because he felt confident with certain areas. On top of that, he should review the material multiple times, because that spaced repetition helps your brain latch onto the information more firmly than an octopus on an unfortunate trainer after a last-minute wardrobe change (octopuses can be incredible primadonnas). Reginald also had a classic case of the trembling-yips, a condition noted for the studious avoidance of a topic or concept that is challenging to the sufferer. Falling prey to the trembling-yips only hurts the sufferer in the long run as they sacrifice any future knowledge that is founded on the challenging information. Unfortunately for Reginald, the only cure for the trembling-yips is the direct application of study in the challenging subject matter. I scratched out several key points on a chalkboard previously devoted to a list of songs to which Olga might perform her dressage routine.

A checklist on a chalkboard
A checklist on a chalkboard

“Dear boy! I think we’ve got it now!” Reginald exclaimed, jumping to his feet and sending a stack of Modern Octopus Trainer Monthly magazines cascading to the floor in rising cloud of dust.

“Hold on, Reg. This plan is pretty great but there is one thing missing from it, ingenious though it most definitely is…”

Reginald scratched his head thoughtfully.

“What could that be?”

The Power of People

No good preparation plan would be complete without leveraging the power of people, and I told him as much. We needed to find him a group of Ornithopter and Octopus Dressage enthusiasts with whom he could confide in, be motivated by, and be held accountable to!

Luckily a quick Doodle search turned up the Oxbridge O & O Club website, a group of nutcases who also happened to be obsessed with the same event, ahem, I meant, idiosyncratic individuals who enjoyed the same events in a thorough, if not borderline-compulsive manner.

A webiste landing page circa 1997; green text on black background, with different descriptions of the O&O Club activities
A webiste landing page circa 1997; green text on black background, with different descriptions of the O&O Club activities

This was great! The mixed experience levels of the members meant that the old hands would challenge Reginald to match them, while the newbies would still challenge his level of mastery. Being part of a group and sharing the group mentality would promote accountability in his preparation and involvement; that is to say, when he started feeling lazy, the delicate social pressure of his group would give him a swift, coal-covered kick in the rear to keep moving.

We got Reginald involved with the O.O.O. club, sorted through the books he would need to cover, prepped Olga for the challenges to come, and spent the next 4 weeks preparing. Reginald doing the work of planning, reviewing, reading, designing, training Olga, re-reading, practicing with group members, etc. while I maintained a higher level position of oversight (every job needs a foreman, obviously this has nothing to do with procrastination, how dare you even bring that up!).

After our four short weeks drew to a close, I watched Reginald depart for the competition, furiously pedaling aboard his newly constructed ornithopter, the “H.M.S. Mini-Mizzy”, Olga in her travel tank, tucked safely behind him.

I waved them off, the green sea glistening under the light of the crisp morning’s sun, and the smell of caramel coated prawns wafting out of a passing vendor’s cart. With one last look to remember him by, in the case that Reginald and Olga did plunge into the ocean, I turned and flagged down the vendor, ready for a salty, sweet prawn snack.

As I finished the bucket off, I wiped the excess caramel from my hands on a stray pigeon and slowly walked back through the cobbled city streets, crossing train tracks, skipping stones, and generally partaking in other activities significant of one crossing a contemplative threshold, it dawned on me that the tactics I outlined for Reginald were a perfect prescription for my own exam preparations.

It seemed that by procrastinating, I had actually helped myself prepare!

No wait, that can’t be the moral of the thing. Ummmm…

I’ve got it!

What may have started as procrastination, turned into a journey of self-realization and growth that-

No! Drat. Too grandiose.

Maybe…

Procrastination is bad sometimes, but not always, and preparation is always good, unless it’s done carelessly, in which case it can actually be detrimental…

No!

What did I even learn from this?

Don’t be ashamed of procrastinating; everyone does it and it’s a natural response to stress. Thoughtful preparation can actually help to relieve stress and is crucial to performing at your best.

Good enough! We’re sticking with it.

So anyways, after a few weeks of procrastinating in a somewhat helpful way, and watching a grown man get slapped by an octopus, I returned to my study shack, and only somewhat begrudgingly began preparing myself for the 109 exams using the things I had learned from working with Reginald.

Cliffhanger

We’ll see if I truly learned anything from this and was able to pass the test though…

A shadowy outline of a man hanging from a cliff with different monsters below him, waiting for him to fall.
A shadowy outline of a man hanging from a cliff with different monsters below him, waiting for him to fall.

Spoiler

I dislike cliffhangers. I passed.

To be continued or not… We’ll see.

Until next time or not… We’ll see.

-Ky

Launch School

Publications of the Launch School Community

Kyle Ledoux

Written by

Launch School

Publications of the Launch School Community

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