Procrastination: A waste of time?

As I patted the loose earth around the newly planted inhabitant of my garden, I feebly reassured myself that tomorrow would be the day I finally completed my tax form. Just like I had decided yesterday, and all the days before. Tomorrow, voted “day of the week” by Procrastinators Anonymous.

Procrastination, which could be termed “the art of putting off until tomorrow what you should have done yesterday”, has been around poisoning people’s lives for a fair while. Way back in 1st Century BC, Publilius Syrus noted: “Deliberando saepe perit occasio”: “the opportunity often slips away whilst we deliberate about it”. Numerous authors and politicians mention the big P in their works and speeches.  It seems to be part and parcel of human nature, handed out to Adam & Eve whilst He Upstairs was distributing the less charming human attributes like farting, hairy legs and addictions to peanuts.

So is procrastination really a waste of time? Not in my book. Since the infamous annual tax form arrived, I have successfully accomplished many other activities that I had been actively avoiding until then. Apart from the unavoidable issue of bringing home the bacon, P.F’s shirts have been impeccably ironed, the dump has been run done on a regular basis rather than waiting until there is a skip load of rubble in front of the house, the fridge-freezer has been defrosted and cleaned. Even my usual Vesuvius of dirty laundry diminished to a point where I was practically ripping the dirty clothing off my family’s backs to have a good excuse for a machine load.

So we can safely say that in my case, procrastination is part of the equation for getting things done, but in a very twisted kind of way. Not wanting to fill in “The Form” pushed me to do other necessary things that suddenly appeared much more exciting. Even cleaning the family car with my own toothbrush seemed an attractive activity in comparison. There are so many other valid excuses to use as an avoidance tactic as the clock ticks and counts down to that “last minute” crisis situation which becomes inevitable, although it could just as easily be avoided.

So why do people procrastinate? Isn’t it easier just to do things as they come up? Curious to know, I cleaned the earth off my hands, left the tax form growling dangerously in the drawer along with my Filofax and went for a wander on Internet.

If I believe the hype I found, people who procrastinate love contact with other people, and escape the “boredom” of work via the more immediate rewards of social contact. Not really negative in itself.

However, the plot then thickened. Other authors claim that procrastinators seek an immediate fix of happiness. They do not understand or enjoy delayed gratification, have little self control, and apparently also lack in self-esteem such an extent that they avoid difficult tasks simply because they are either scared of not succeeding, or of succeeding so well that others could expect too much of them. They put off the work for longer and longer, until the final date rolls up and the mission is so impossible that even James Bond would burst into tears and throw in the towel. Ah, now things are looking decidedly more morose.

So how do you define when you are doing something because you are avoiding something else, because it’s necessary, or simply because you enjoy it? Difficult to know.  Anyone who has filled in the French income tax declaration will perhaps understand my overt lack of motivation.

Now that I’ve spent an interesting afternoon writing about procrastination, I’m off to fill in that form. Once I’ve weeded the garden, that is……

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