The ultimate guide to procrastination

Written by lee johnson Google
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The ultimate guide to procrastination
(Photo: Flickr: rishibando, via Compfight)

Embrace the faff. Stare out of the window. Bend paperclips. Stand in the middle of the room trying to remember what you came downstairs for. Pace. Drum your fingertips. Move papers around. Hum. Look at the garden. Go to the shed with the intention of tidying up and instead fall asleep. Make mental notes. Read every single word of the newspaper - even the job ads - before getting down to work. Lose yourself in erotic reveries. Pat your pockets. Resolve to be more organised in future. Be useless.

— Tom Hodgkinson, author of “How to be Idle”

Procrastination gets a lot of hate. We’re told that we’re supposed to be on task, that we should always be chipping away at our bigger tasks and dutifully crossing items off to do lists. The pro-procrastination viewpoint doesn’t get enough credit. It’s not just a mark of the inefficient or lazy, because there is always some underlying reason you’re procrastinating. You might not actually want to do the thing you’re supposed to be doing, or maybe you’re nervous you won’t be able to do it well enough, but in any case it isn’t just about being lazy. It’s about that too, but the secret that many pro-action, pro-slaving-away-at-a-useless-job types either won’t tell you or don’t realise for themselves is that being lazy is actually a good thing if you know when to do it.

Adopting the mindset

The solution isn’t learning ways not to procrastinate; it’s changing the way you think about procrastination. The first essential step is to drop your guilt. We’re told that we’re supposed to be superhumanly productive or have some drive to do anything other than sit around eating and idly searching the Internet, and if we don’t we should feel guilty about it. Really, stress is much worse for you than putting something off – depending on the circumstances, that is – and there are benefits to procrastination in itself.

Busyness is not a virtue. In fact, the very purpose of working, if you were asked to explain it, would have to be in order to make money, and the purpose of gaining money is to pay for things and ultimately, to retire on some tropical island or in some quiet country house and – most importantly – to then do nothing! Working for the sake of work is pointless. The question to ask yourself is, is the task you’re trying to avoid really that important?

Procrastination isn’t about laziness, it’s about happiness. So embrace those moments without guilt – give yourself a break and don’t spend the time worrying about what you’re supposed to be doing. As Alexander Kjerluf, author of “Happy Hour is 9 to 5” argues in a pro-procrastination blog post, “Don’t let procrastination sneak up on you, so that you suddenly find that you’re doing something other than you should be. Instead, choose consciously to not work on your current task. Instead of fighting it, say to yourself ‘I will now procrastinate.’”

Enjoying your procrastination

The ultimate guide to procrastination
(Photo: Flickr: Mickie Quick, via Compfight)

So get down to it. That is, start putting off doing stuff. If you’re supposed to be doing something right now, you’ve already made a solid start, but don’t let your reading end here: do some aimless clicking around and see what interesting stuff you come across. Free from the constraints of guilt, surfing your social media site of choice or even engaging in some lively (but, as always, pretty fruitless) online debating is an easy but enjoyable way to relax and enjoy a little down-time.

Let your curiosity, your actual passions and your sense of fun be your guides for a while. Whether for you that means sitting on the toilet for too long and reading a chapter of a book, making a start on a personal project you’ve been meaning to get to or just relaxing and playing a computer game for a while, it doesn’t matter. Just take some time out to do something you actually want to; focus on yourself for a while.

Good procrastination vs. bad procrastination

There is a reason that most advice on procrastination takes the opposing approach, though, so it’s important not to be foolish. Firstly, some things really do need to be done. If you procrastinate about paying your rent you could find yourself twiddling your thumbs in a cardboard box. But there’s a more nuanced definition which is extremely useful to consider.

In a blog post on the topic, Paul Graham (a programmer, writer and investor) splits procrastination into three categories, “depending on what you do instead of working on something: you could work on (a) nothing, (b) something less important, or (c) something more important. That last type, I'd argue, is good procrastination.”

We’ve touched on the first type of procrastination too, and even though it’s not traditionally favoured, there are abundant reasons to value your down-time. Type “c” is a slightly different breed, and it’s when even the biggest busybody you know would have to concede that procrastination is a good thing. If your day is filled with errands – day-to-day tasks and responsibilities which only serve to detract from what you really want or need to do (whatever that may be) –procrastinating on those is almost noble. Putting the useless stuff off lets your focus naturally drift towards what’s really important, so procrastinating on the less important thing is secretly good time management. But that’s only if you use your time to do something more important – the opposite (doing errands instead of important stuff) is the dark side of procrastination. That’s the stuff you really should avoid.

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