Everything There Is To Say About Procrastination


Procrastination is a way to turn things we need to do into things we feel lousy about not doing. Procrastination surrounds us and envelops us. Logic tells us there has to have been a time people just knew their cars had back seats, for example. They wouldn’t have felt like they should Do Something about them.

Everyone procrastinates, to some degree. Oh, you encounter people who insist they never do. They’ll give you advice on how to not procrastinate, too. “If you know something will take less than two minutes to do, just stop and do it right then,” they’ll say. These are miserable people. They’re trapped behind their reputation for efficiency and accomplishment. They’re hoping for release. By release they mean “get stuffed into a plastic bin in a storage locker someone means to organize someday”. Nobody will ever get around to doing them this mercy. You know if you die at e-mail inbox zero you don’t get to hang around as a ghost. You’re just gone.

It would be interesting to know why we procrastinate. It seems counterproductive. Without procrastination, we’d just have, say, coffee tables. With it, we turn those coffee tables into balls of explosive guilt. “I have to get some sleep before that big presentation at work location tomorrow! I only have four hours! Why am I thinking about how the coffee table still has the wristbands from the county fair and that three-month-old free weekly newspaper on it in untidy piles?” This is all right. You haven’t started writing that presentation anyway. It’ll definitely help if you lie awake two and a half more hours cursing yourself for not Doing Something about the coffee table. In this way we have a cluttered table, a lousy night’s sleep, and a work presentation so bad they tell you that you never have to present anything again, ever. So it’s not all bad. You at least become legend. They talk for years about how the quarterly presentation slide went. But we can’t expect such good results every time.

I guess the trouble is that to get something done, we have to do it. And that would be great. There’s few things in the world that feel better than having a thing done. Having a barber shave the back of your neck with a straight razor, that’s about the only better thing. But getting a thing done just means that you get something else to do. Nobody knows where these things come from. The universe just slots some new task right in front of you, just as you’re enjoying being done and how that hot shaving lotion feels. So what if you never do that thing? Then you have the same outcome: you’ve still got a thing to do in front of you. And you’ve saved the effort of having to do it. And all you lose is the feeling of joy that you’ve accomplished a thing. It just costs you turning everything in your life into something that makes you feel bad. I should probably make a better guess. This won’t work.

To procrastinate is easy and you can do it most anytime. You will need:

1. A thing to do.
2. Absolutely anything else in the universe to exist.

To procrastinate, remind yourself that there is this thing to do. Then let anything else exist, right in front of you. Then just do what comes naturally. This will be any other thing. Some readers may think this sounds a lot like Robert Benchley’s Principle, “anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment”. This was explained in his classic essay “How To Get Things Done”. You should definitely read it, by which I mean, you should mean to get around to reading it. You can find it on the Internet.

The Internet is a great way to remind you that things exist. Also that most of them are terrible. This gets you a head start on feeling guilty about this all. You shouldn’t go out looking for things to feel terrible about, because that could crash the whole scheme of procrastination. We’d have to replace this weirdly miserable, faintly self-destructive habit with something else. And whatever we come up with would be worse. You’ve met people. You know that’s true.

If you do need to get something done, without losing the guilt and shame attached to procrastinating, there are compromises. You could, for example, get something mostly done, but quit doing it while there’s some small but noticeable piece undone. This way you never have to

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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