Procrastination: putting off intentionally something that should be done,
from the Latin, pro (forward) and crastinus (of tomorrow)
How fitting that the word is lengthy and Latinate, taking its time to reach a conclusion. Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson once wrote that procrastination is “really sloth in five syllables.” And yet the word denotes so much more than mere sloth or indolence: A procrastinator meticulously organizing a sock drawer or an iTunes library can’t exactly be accused of laziness. Likewise, procrastination is not simply the act of deferral or postponement. It implies an intentional avoidance of important tasks, putting off unpleasant responsibilities that one knows should be taken care of right away and setting them on the back burner for another day.
Noting Ben Franklin’s dictum “never put off until tomorrow what should be done today,” Zimmer reminds us of MarkTwain’s response: “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”
Which brings us to another great P-word perendinate, meaning “to put something off until the day after tomorrow.”
And – picture stories being worth 1000 textual declamations -join me in procrastinating a minute longer with cartoonist Lev Yilmaz. Laugh while you wince in self-recognition.
One of the main reasons I started this blog was to explore the P words that pave my path to Perfection. Procrastination is one of those words, and yet I’ve posted 60 entries on this blog without touching upon this pimple on the ass of Progress.
When I was preparing for a party last week, I reorganized a couple of kitchen cabinets, gathered a box of books for the second-hand store, and hung a bunch of pictures. Today, in preparation for an appointment with my divorce* attorney, I’m writing in my blog about procrastination.
John Perry, a Stanford philosophy professor whose public radio show Philosophy Talk is a favorite of mine, calls this “structured procrastination.”
I have discovered an amazing strategy that converts procrastinators into effective human beings, respected and admired for all that they can accomplish and the good use they make of time. All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.
Structured procrastination means shaping the structure of the tasks one has to do in a way that exploits this fact. The list of tasks one has in mind will be ordered by importance. Tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top. But there are also worthwhile tasks to perform lower down on the list. Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.
Ah. I feel better now.
*Divorce – I’ve been separated for 7 years from my almost ex, but we have yet to finalize it. This gives you some sense of my capacity for procrastination.