A recent Wall Street Journal essay by John Perry, author of the upcoming book, The Art of Procrastination, includes some tips for being a better procrastinator. You probably missed it because you were so busy attending to all of the things you do—and well, we might add!
A short personal procrastination anecdote, which is essentially a procrastination before we get to the meat of this piece: Like, I presume, many of us, every Friday (or, latest, Saturday morning) I sit down and make a list. Usually it's stuff I didn't get to during the week, stories that are in the process of happening or ideas that seemed good at some point in time that I still want to consider. Also, the practical stuff, like laundry and cleaning and bills and errands that I consider weekend duties because there's no time in our hectic workaday life, right? I never write, on this list, "Check Twitter," "Read Interesting Articles on the Internet," "Look at Facebook," or even "Watch TV" or "Read Books"—unless a book perhaps has to do with work. Nor do I include phone calls to or hanging out with friends, usually, unless it's been so long that an appointment has been made and needs to be kept. The act of making the list itself is a kind of procrastination—I'm not in that time accomplishing anything on that list—but it's also soothing and organizing and even energizing in its own way. Usually, I manage, in a weekend, to check off half of these things, quite possibly fewer. Inevitably, I feel guilty about that.
But Perry's piece handily reminds us that procrastination is not all bad. Nay, it's even good! How can you work-work-work all the time, productive-productive-productive, and not burn out or flip out or remain a human as opposed to being a robot of some sort? He adds, too, that procrastinators tend to be more productive, creative, and, in fact, pretty organized, or as he says, "structured." Balm to our procrastinating souls! He continues, "This means that although they may be putting off something deemed important, their way of not doing the important thing is to do something else. Like reading instead of completing their expense report before it's due. Nevertheless, such people feel bad about being procrastinators and often annoy others."
Wait, maybe you're saying ... this sounds just like me! I tend to pay the bills instead of working on the piece I have an actual deadline on, or I call family when really I should be mowing the lawn. Perry turns out to be a bit of a rabbit-hole Interneter like a lot of us—he writes, "Some correspondent mentions Tajikistan; you don't know much about Tajikistan, so you Google it. You read the Wikipedia article. Which leads you to the Basmarchi Revolt. Before long the morning is mostly gone; you have learned a lot about the history of Central Asia but haven't done your expense report, or even finished reading your email." Given that habit, he suggests some simple tricks, like unplugging your laptop or drinking (water) before you work so that you have to get up at some point to pee. (I prefer coffee, turning off Twitter while working on something long on weekends, keeping myself invisible on gchat, and, oops, now that secret is out.)
Perry also suggests, though, that you "learn how to be less annoying to the non-procrastinators around you.... Admit that you are a procrastinator, and admit that it is a flaw."
But this definition of "procrastinator"—less couch potato, more getting stuff done though maybe not in the absolute expected order—sounds more like "high-achieving perfectionist" or "creative person with goals and a lot to accomplish." Such a person is bound to be disappointed in him or herself, nearly continuously, because it's impossible to get it all done. But if you're a super overachieving type, you can attempt to make everything you do into its own accomplishment. Instead of going out simply to relax and drink and talk with your friends, for instance, if you're a writer or a blogger or something like that, make everything a story idea! Instead of just reading a book or watching a TV show for personal pleasure, live-tweet about it and then write about it the next day, or use it as an anecdote with a client, or to break the ice with a coworker!
Sometimes I look for a photo before I write a blog post. Sometimes I tweet things that I don't even write about. Sometimes I stare at my computer and think. Are these things procrastination? Even ordering lunch...well, you have to eat lunch. Consumption is important to work, and in some forms of work, media consumption is its own very necessary part of the job. If procrastination is always doing something of value when you should perhaps be doing something different, is it really procrastination, or is it just getting things done—and are we just calling it procrastination because it so frequently seems to happen on the Internet?
Go lie in a field and pick daisies and think about that for a while.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.