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Life in procrastination nation

  • 22 January 2016

It is 2016 and my newsfeed is clogged with articles on procrastination — not alarming, really, as social media is more or less designed as an instrument of procrastination.

The trending headlines are: how to overcome procrastination, the surprising neurological origins of procrastination, and how procrastinators are better-slash-worse than non-procrastinators.

Is this a joke? Does reading about procrastination make anyone feel better about the fact they are procrastinating? More than that, does everyone really care so much how they spend every waking moment?

Where does this need for punctuality, performance and productivity arise?

I don't believe it is rooted so much in 'western culture' as it is in capitalism. There is, after all, time for many kinds of dithering in the literature that charts western society (the ruling society, at least.)

Socrates was a notorious ditherer. At the beginning of The Symposium, his friend Agathon finds him 'fresh from the bath and with shoes on his feet, two circumstances most unusual with him'. They walk together to a dinner party, but Agathon arrives alone, because his friend has 'fallen behind' — Socrates is just standing somewhere deep in his own thoughts, and comes into the meal as it's halfway through.

Socrates can barely tie his own sandals — he's a total flake! He'd never make his job network meeting on time. Hamlet, similarly, is entirely premised on the drama of procrastination: perhaps some things, like killing one's paternal uncle who is also the king, might seem better fit for tomorrow.

Unpleasant activities are the ones that incur procrastination, and it is the inherent unpleasantness of these activities which gives them virtue.

Along with 90 per cent of my peers, I procrastinated my way through an undergraduate degree. I'd leave papers til a few days before the due date, and stay up the night before to write them. To this day I often get up at 5am to finish writing something on deadline.

Most writers acknowledge that half of their work is thinking, which happens in notebooks and dream diaries, while lying in the bath, while cooking spanakopita. Perhaps that is pure laziness.

I don't procrastinate these days, probably because I have a loose sense of work, and derive some pleasure from it. Pleasure is a good motivation. I can tell you why I procrastinated so much as a student though: I was not a very good student. I lacked focus and time organisation skills, I was always tired, I worked too much at night