A Guide to Procrastination
The rewards for procrastination are immediate, whereas the pay back for taking action at sometime in the future is not at all guaranteed. So, by some form of logical analysis, the choice to delay doing something is the wise one. Eventually, this article may get written.
Write the essay. File the taxes. Finish that work report. But wait; maybe I can conquer the next level of Bejewelled.
Mop the kitchen floor. Wash the car. Make an appointment with the dentist. Oooh look a book.
If you haven’t procrastinated you may not be human. We all do it.
The Very Well Mind says “An estimated 25 to 75 percent of college students procrastinate on academic work.” That’s such a wide statistical margin that it suggests someone didn’t complete their study.
“The chronic procrastinator, the person who does this as a lifestyle, would rather have other people think that they lack effort than lacking ability,”
Dr. Joseph Ferrari
Joseph Ferrari is a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago and he seems to have completed his assignment to the point of publishing his 2010 book Still Procrastinating: The No Regret Guide to Getting It Done.
He says the chronic I’ll-do-it-later brigade make up 20 percent of the American adult population. These are people for whom procrastination is a way of life. They are in the mall buying presents on Christmas Eve. They pay penalties for late filing on their taxes. They drive around with expired license-plate stickers.
For these people, the coming of social media was a diamond-encrusted gift.
The Psychology of Procrastination
Start researching procrastination, (obviously, after cuddling with the cat and checking out who’s at the bird feeder – damned squirrels again) and the words “self-regulation” keep popping up.
Eric Jaffe writes (Association for Psychological Science) that “True procrastination is a complicated failure of self-regulation: experts define it as the voluntary delay of some important task that we intend to do, despite knowing that we’ll suffer as a result.”
The self-regulating mechanism, when it doesn’t fail, is what keeps us from overeating, drinking heavily, spending impulsively, or leaving the dishes in the sink in the hope they’ll wash themselves.
Here’s Timothy Pychyl of Carleton University, Canada: “I think the basic notion of procrastination as self-regulation failure is pretty clear. You know what you ought to do and you’re not able to bring yourself to do it. It’s that gap between intention and action.”
Alexander Rozental is a psychologist at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. He studies procrastination and told Time magazine “People procrastinate because of a lack of value [associated with the task]; because they expect that they’re not going to achieve the value they’re trying to achieve; because the value is too far from you in terms of time; or because you’re very impulsive as a person,”
What all the researchers conclude, sadly, is that procrastination is bad. It’s self-defeating, it causes stress, and, when tasks are finally completed, they are of lower quality.
“Telling someone who procrastinates to buy a weekly planner is like telling someone with chronic depression to just cheer up.”
Dr. Joseph Ferrari
Putting things off seems to be an affliction that hits writers more than others.
Back in the day, the paper needed to be arranged in just the right spot on the desk. What’s this? I’ve only got HB pencils when I need 2Bs. Or, the ink in the pen should be blue/black not black.
Nowadays, of course, we’ve got Candy Crush, Freecell, and Angry Birds to help delay the onset of work.
Victor Hugo found it easier to be distracted away from his desk than to sit down and write. He was aware of his procrastination and developed a solution; he had every stitch of clothing he owned removed from his home. Now, in a state of nature with only a shawl to keep him warm, he had no alternative but to write or become a nude boulevardier.
Truman Capote didn’t go the buck naked root and never conquered his inability to buckle down to work. He had a contract with Random House for $1 million to deliver his masterpiece Answered Prayers by March 1981. He started the novel in the early 1970s but only completed three chapters before his death in 1984. The drugs and booze that killed him were certainly a factor in his failure to get his work done and ensured that he did not postpone his own death.
Rule for a Happy Procrastinator
Never do today what you can get
someone else to do tomorrow.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was another writer who had trouble overcoming inertia. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is about the only poem he completed.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan is perhaps the champion of just making a deadline. In May 1777, his play The School for Scandal was actually in its opening night performance with the last act not yet finished. He managed the scribble the actor’s lines before the final curtain.
Other writers said to be seized by the delaying tactic include, Margaret Attwood, Franz Kafka, Samuel Johnson, and Graham Greene.
Some might say uncharitably that writers are lazy. The charitable view is that a spell of quiet contemplation with a glass of chilled Chablis gives the brain a chance to sort out how the next paragraph is going to go.
Procrastination Week is held every year in March, but a devotee of putting things off can celebrate it in August, or even, not at all.
Writers Gore Vidal and Truman Capote loathed one another and carried on a vicious, insulting feud. They fired off abusive remarks at one another with gay abandon, using the word “gay” in its modern connotation. Capote said “I’m always sad about Gore – very sad that he has to breathe every day. When Vidal heard about Capote’s death he said it marked “a brilliant career move.”
Advertising executive Les Waas is the President of the Procrastination Club of America. Actually, he’s the acting president because, although the club was formed in 1957, it hasn’t got around to holding an election for high office yet.
Elizabeth Lombardo is a psychologist. She has written an article for Psychology Today (here) about how to overcome procrastination. Some day I might read it.
- “Capote’s Swan Dive.” Sam Kashner, Vanity Fair, December 2012.
- “The Psychology Behind Why We Wait Until the Last Minute to Do Things.” Kendra Cherry, The Very Well Mind, January 2019.
- “Psychologists Explain Why You Procrastinate — And How to Stop.” Jamie Ducharme, Time, June 29, 2018.
- “Self-regulation Failure (Part 1): Goal Setting and Monitoring.” Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., Psychology Today, February 16, 2009.
- “Why Wait? The Science Behind Procrastination.” Eric Jaffe, Association for Psychological Science Observer, April 2013.
© 2019 Rupert Taylor