Procrastination is a dirty word. Procrastination is a dirty thing done by dirty people. Procrastination is a dysfunction of the highest order. Society has no room for procrastinators like me. We can’t complete a simple task without first seeing to a dozen other irrelevant things. We are lazy scatterbrains who don’t have our shit together.
I’m a chronic procrastinator and these are the things I’ve been trained to tell myself.
My procrastination causes me a great deal of anxiety, or perhaps it’s the other way around.
Either way, it’s bothersome. And I need to remind myself every day that it’s okay to not finish everything right at that moment. It’s okay to take a break. But the thoughts come back; procrastination is guilt.
My first experience of being made to feel guilty about procrastination was in primary school.
The year was 1999 and my six-year-old-self was lost in the most pleasant daydream.
Oblivious to the scornful eyes of Ms Barrett scanning the room, I was woken abruptly by her jarring intrusion into my alternate reality.
“Michael. What are you doing? You only have a minute left and your page is blank,” she said.
Realising the urgency of the situation - I mean shit, I had ten minutes to write three sentences about my weekend - I fell back on an excuse I continue to use to this day.
“I’m sorry, I was just thinking.”
Thinking, just thinking.
“Well Michael, I’m afraid just thinking won’t get you very far in life.”
That was it, procrastinating won’t get you far. Because far is what you must get. And anything short of going far is going nowhere. And going nowhere is nothing. Don’t procrastinate Michael or you’ll become nothing.
I suppose Ms Barrett was right, not only about how far I’ve failed to come, but about the world more broadly.
She was an embodiment of the world outside that classroom, because just thinking doesn’t build bridges or remove brain tumours.
We live in a world that values actions over words, and experience over ideas.
We value anything more than a useless and inept procrastinator.
I’m a recovering procrastinator. Contrary to what you might think, this means I’m learning to live with my procrastination and not trying to eliminate it. Because whatever the world thinks of us, it is okay to procrastinate.
At the heart of procrastination, there is an aversion to deadlines and meeting expectations. I think there are the two main types of procrastinator:
There are the avoiders - the ones who just dread doing something and so don’t do it. The avoiders hate judgment of any kind and would rather not do the task you’ve set them, please and thank you. They’ll do their own thing in their own time.
And there are the distractables (it’s a word now), those whose minds bound from one thing to another and can’t sit still long enough to make a single decision.
These aren’t mutually exclusive categories. I certainly am both at times, but I feel I am more of a distractable than an avoider.
Of course, these are two characteristics you’ll never find on a job description.
“Applicants must be cripplingly afraid of deadlines; preferably to the point of total indecision in life. The ability to ruthlessly scrutinise one’s own life choices in a vain attempt to figure out ‘where it all went wrong’ is highly desired.”
“A self-starter who can move from one half completed task to the next, as a means of distracting themselves long enough to forget that their very short existence in this vast cosmic arena is both meaningless and absurd, is essential. Those existentially-at-ease need not apply.”
Things might seem bleak for the procrastinators but I can offer some refuge.
The poster boy of the renaissance and all round fucking genius - Leonardo da Vinci - was the biggest procrastinator ever.
I mean, how couldn’t he be? Part of Leo’s genius was his distractability. Depending on the day of the week, this bloke was an engineer, architect, biologist, botanist, anatomist, mathematician, physicist, sculptor, painter (should I go on?).
Unfortunately, the industrial age and the modern workforce killed this approach to life.
Imagine Leo getting on in today’s workforce.
“Hey, has anyone seen Leo today? He’s supposed to be at this board meeting.”
“Oh yeah boss, he ducked out to touch up that mural he was working on.”
“Remember he was telling us last week, down that laneway, outside the yoga studio, opposite that wine bar. What did he call it? The last dinner, or the final supper, or something like that.”
Rather unsurprisingly the remedy for procrastination is doing something. Ironic I know, but it’s easier said than done.
But if I ever find myself on Wikipedia researching how spoons are made, when I should be writing an assignment, I change my perspective on the situation.
It is likely a useless endeavor but the manufacture of spoons might shed light on other, more interesting things. I might, in my procrastination, learn something.
You can alleviate your guilt by changing your perspective on procrastination. Instead of it being a waste of time, try thinking of it as a mere reshuffling.
If you procrastinate by doing work in another way, then are you really procrastinating?
Be like Leo; if procrastination is a chance to learn or experience something new then embrace it.
It’s always useful to remember these words, :
“The work you do whilst you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”
Editor’s note: It took Michael two months to hand this article in. Procrastination in its truest, purest form.
Image: Alex Jack
Michael is an inner city, latte sipping, good for nothing, twenty something journalism student.
When not shackled to the drudgery of daily life he can be found travelling to interesting parts of the world, reading books he pretends to understand, or quaffing grotesque volumes of wine; sometimes simultaneously. Michael collates and exhibits his idle thoughts on thefence.net. Or you can find him on facebook, twitter, instagram etc. @mjforno