What Skee-Ball Taught Me About Procrastinating

Fun fact: Skee-Ball was one of the first ticket-redemption arcade games; you roll a ball up an incline and try to get it to drop into one of several holes, preferably one worth lots of points so you win lots of tickets.

Before air miles, I had arcade tickets

When I was a kid, our local mall had an arcade called Dream Machine. One of my favorite things to do was play Skee-Ball with my grandmother. Whether my grandmother and I were actually good at Skee-Ball or she was just really good at letting me think we were, we did manage to rack up a LOT of tickets. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say we collected thousands of tickets over the years.

When we would visit Dream Machine, I would carefully study all the redemption options, considering what I might want to redeem for. For a long time, I had my eye on a boombox; I think it cost a completely unattainable number of tickets, even for us, rich in tickets as we were. But there were many desirable options well within my reach — stuffed animals, board games, hip ’90s school supplies.

Saving for a rainy day that never came

We continued playing that game for years, racking up more and more tickets. Maybe you’ve figured out how this story ends: Dream Machine closed before I ever took the plunge and redeemed those tickets! 😮

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Looking back, part of me thinks I procrastinated on spending them, and there may be some truth to this, in the very literal sense that I delayed taking action. (There’s more to explore here, on the topic of procrastination and saving — which we’ll make a topic for another day.)

I was looking out for my future self in spite of my present self even back then — not wanting to spend tickets on 3rd grade Emily when 4th grade Emily might want them for something more important.

But procrastination generally isn’t in character for me. The reality, I think, is that not spending those tickets was related to our theory on precrastination in that I was looking out for my future self in spite of my present self even back then — not wanting to spend tickets on 3rd grade Emily when 4th grade Emily might want them for something more important.

This “looking out for future Emily” issue persists with me today, as I tend to stockpile my hard-earned airline and hotel miles, along with gift cards I’ve saved up over the years.

Goal-setting is important for enjoyable things, too

Last year, I came up with a solution to spend my gift cards: I made it one of my annual goals to do so. Suddenly, it wasn’t a distant thought or possibility; it was a pressing responsibility. Now that it was written down, I had no trouble making a plan to spend each one, starting by documenting my balances in a spreadsheet and referring to it anytime I wanted to order takeout (since I had several restaurant gift cards) or send a gift (since I had numerous gift cards for retail stores).

Reflecting on this issue of looking out for our future selves at the expense of our present ones, I’m mindful of how important it is to recognize and manage our precrastinatory and procrastinatory tendencies. I like to think that if I could relive my Skee-Ball years, my grandmother and I would have saved up to a point — and then treated ourselves to some awesome ’90s gear that we could enjoy in the present as well as in the future.

Image credits: Skee-Ball

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