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John Perry


Procrastinating Tips: 9 Reasons To Slack Off

Posted: 08/15/2012 12:34 pm

It may sound counterintuitive, but you can accomplish a lot by putting things off. I call it "structured procrastination." According to my book, The Art of Procrastination []:

"In 1995, while not working on some project I should have been working on, I began to feel rotten about myself. But then I noticed something. On the whole, I had a reputation as a person who got a lot done and made a reasonable contribution... A paradox. Rather than getting to work on my important projects, I began to think about this conundrum. I realized that I was what I call a structured procrastinator: a person who gets a lot done by not doing other things."

All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this negative trait work for you. If you know that you tend to avoid that "big, important" project at the top of your priority list, rearrange said list by putting an even bigger, more important project at the top (think: "1. Learn Chinese..."). In addition to offering ingenious strategies for making yourself accomplish your tasks, I discuss such topics as the double-edged relationship between the computer and procrastination--on the one hand, it allows the procrastinator to fire off a letter or paper at the last possible minute; on the other, it's a dangerous time suck (I counter this by never surfing until I'm either already hungry for lunch or have a full bladder). And I point out what may be procrastination's greatest gift: the chance to accomplish surprising, wonderful things by not sticking to a rigid schedule. For example, I wrote this book by avoiding the work I was supposed to be doing--grading papers and evaluating dissertation ideas.

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  • Leaving things until the last minute is a way of budgeting your time.

    Most procrastinators are (sort of) perfectionists. As long as they have a lot of time to do a task, they fantasize about doing a perfect job. Leaving it till the last minute is a way of giving oneself permission to do a merely adequate job. 99 percent of the time a merely adequate job is all that is needed.

  • Lots of tasks disappear if given a chance.

    You should make sure a task is really necessary before committing yourself to doing it. Maybe the boss who asked for it will get fired, or take another job, or get promoted, or forget, or die. Maybe some gung-ho colleague will do it for you. Maybe life on earth will end. If it's still there tomorrow, or the next day, there will be time to do it then.

  • While you may annoy some people by procrastinating, they are usually irritating go-getters, so who cares?

    Most the people who stick their nose in your office to ask how some overdue task is coming, are just procrastinators themselves, tending to your business as a way of not tending to their own. Screw 'em.

  • Not doing one thing is often an excellent way of doing something else.

    People who have a reputation for getting a lot done are usually procrastinators who do one thing as a way of not doing something else. People who clean their garages, write clever blogs, send thank-you notes, and read a lots of book are invariably procrastinators, doing all of these things as a way of not doing something else.

  • By procrastinating, you put yourself in the company of great men and women.

    From Socrates to Thomas Jefferson, from Jane Austen to Mark Twain, from Solon to Nancy Pelosi, most great women and men have been procrastinators. Jesus started preaching when Joseph had given him a lot of stuff to do around the carpentry shop. Actually I'm not sure of any of this --- I meant to check but never got around to it.

  • Non-procrastinators are inevitably ignorant.

    Suppose you really never put off until tomorrow what you could do today. You'd have to work right up to midnight every night. So you would never be able to watch John Stewart or Stephen Colbert or David Letterman. So you wouldn't know anything about current events and their deeper meanings. That would be irresponsible.

  • Procrastination encourages productive subconscious thought.

    When we put off doing something, our subconscious focuses on it, so then when we get around to doing it we are full of good ideas we wouldn't have had if we had plunged right into. Any procrastinator will tell you that. So it must be true.

  • When it comes to email, procrastination is a powerful survival technique.

    There are people out there who live for email. If you answer one of their messages promptly, they will respond with another before you have a chance to pat yourself on the back. If you are careful to procrastinate for at least a day before answering any email, you will encourage such people to drop you from their list of correspondents.

  • It's not the worst flaw one can have.

    Most procrastinators are nice folks who get a lot done, albeit by not doing other things they should be doing. You may be a procrastinator, but you aren't a serial killer or a child-molester or someone who steals food from hungry nuns. Pat yourself o the back for what you do get done, and give yourself a break.