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Positive Procrastination (yes, it exists)

“Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” – John Perry


Procrastination isn’t some horrible mental illness that needs to be cured. For many people, procrastination is a way to motivate themselves to do things that are tough. They just don’t realize that’s what they’re doing.

I procrastinate all the time. My preferred method of procrastinating is to make to-do lists (kind of ironic, isn’t it?) of things I need to get done. I always put the most important/most time sensitive tasks at the top of the list: “Create presentation for Business Communications class, due 5/26.” Then, the least important tasks are at the bottom: “Clear desktop” or “organize external hard drive.” My example is not built from the structures mentioned in this article, but it works for me.

Q: Which of the three tasks listed above will be completed first?John Perry
Find the answer at the end of this post.

No cure needed

How many times have you put off a complicated task and thought, “Man, I’m such a bad procrastinator”? What were you doing when you were thinking this? I bet you weren’t sitting around doing nothing. I bet you were doing something. In 1995, Dr. John Perry claimed that procrastinators rarely do nothing at all.

Structured procrastination: a method to the madness

Dr. Perry believes the key to productivity is to make more commitments in a logical way. He discusses this method in “The Art of Procrastination.”

“At the top of your to-do list, put a couple of daunting, if not impossible, tasks that are vaguely important-sounding (but really aren’t) and seem to have deadlines (but really don’t). Then, farther down the list, include some doable tasks that really matter.”

Raymond Chandler developed a strategy that Roy F. Baumeister, social psychologist at Florida state, calls the Nothing Alternative. Chandler used this method to force himself to write stories by allotting four hours a day to either write or do absolutely nothing.

Structured procrastination requires quite a bit of self-deception to work. Dr. Perry explains the reason for this requirement:

“Productive procrastination is a bit of make-believe, along the lines of setting your watch five minutes fast. You know you did it, but you still pretend you didn’t.”

lateproThis is the same method I use to finish my coursework on time. I organize all of my assignments in iStudiez Pro or iProcrastinate, but when I enter the assignments I set the due date to be a couple of days earlier than the actual date the assignment is due. Then I try my damnedest to forget that I did that, and I go by the dates I put in the app. This way, even if I put off doing the work until the last minute, I haven’t really sacrificed my grade.

If you’re one of those people who stay home instead of going to that party so you can study for tomorrow’s test, but actually end up cleaning your room or organizing a notebook, you’re probably pretty good at self-deception. Thus, you’re more likely to be a good procrastinator.

Important people who procrastinate

Saint Augustine, Bill Clinton, Leonardo da Vinci, Hamlet, Victor Hugo, Tenzin Gyatso, Herman Melville, Margaret Atwood, and Gene Fowler. You can read all about them and a few more at Procrastinus.

So now you know (if you didn’t already) that procrastination isn’t all that bad. If someone calls you a procrastinator, maybe you can feel a little bit of pride in it as I do. Instead of using the saying, “never put off until tomorrow what you can do today,” you can go  “never do today any task that may disappear by tomorrow.”

A: Clearing off the desktop. It’s the easiest of the three to do. Next would be organizing and last would be the presentation. :) 

Image credit: Philosophy Talk, WBUR 90.9

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