Monday, July 13, 2009

Procrastinators be Proud: We're good at getting stuff done as long as it's not important.

You know why I'm writing this? Because I don't have to. I updated my blog just two days ago. What I should be working on is the feature article I promised the local Tribune. It was due like, yesterday. But I'm a procrastinator, so instead of working on that project, I'm spending time here. Last week, when I really needed to work on Forty Fabulous, I was too busy redecorating my daughter's room.

It's a myth that we procrastinators aren't productive. We're actually very good at completing non-essential tasks. It's the big ones we avoid. Jobs that are critical and time-sensitive (like paying the bills, for example) stress us out so much we get busy with a lot of little things that don't really matter. We empty the dishwasher, take the dog for a walk, clean out the junk drawer. Now, if those tasks were on the top of our lists, we'd probably pay the bills to avoid doing them!

I learned all this in a wonderful essay called Structured Procrastination by John Perry, a Stanford professor and cohost of NPR's Philosophy Talk. According to Perry, there's a way to harness the power of procrastination. All we have to do is put some bogus tasks at the top of our to-do lists, then trick ourselves into thinking that the stuff we really need to do is completely optional.

Perry acknowledges that this practice requires a certain amount of self-deception, but doesn't see it as a problem.

"Virtually all procrastinators have excellent self-deceptive skills," he says, "And what could be more noble than using one characer flaw to offset the bad effects of another?"

Okay, I'm up for trying this technique. I'm going to put "File Financial Statements" on the top of my list (ensuring it absolutely will not get done) and move "Write Trib Article" down toward the bottom. That way, maybe I'll come at least close to hitting my deadline.


meredith sinclair said...

Thank you for this post!! I was telling Steph awhile back that I am a productive procrastinator. This article you outline makes me feel so much better about myself.

Hipchick said...

productive procrastinator - YES! that is it! we should start a club!!!!

Marjie Killeen said...

We procrastinators know what others don't - very few things are actually important! And we'll get around to those in our own good time.