Thoughts on Procrastination

There are two kinds of people in this world: people who get stuff done on time, and people who get stuff done on time but in the least efficient manner possible. I guess there are also people in this world who don't get stuff done on time, but in doing so those people self-select themselves out of whatever it is they're failing to do, so we're not going to talk about those people. We're going to talk about the second kind of person, commonly known as the procrastinator.

Hands up if that's you.

Now take that hand and give yourself a good facepalm. And before you get pissy, know I'm right there with you. I happen to be an excellent procrastinator.

When I was in university I spent about 85% of my time watching TV and reading comics and taking bus adventures around the city. I did anything I could to avoid schoolwork. Mind you, I still attended approximately 98% of my classes, but as for work outside the classroom? That was always on the backburner. Assignments were done the day before they were due, and studying turned into a late-night cram session. I took a Russian history course during my last year, and I literally learned nothing until two days before the final. There were half a dozen books I was supposed to read over the course of the semester, and know well enough to write an essay on one of them during the final exam. I read none of the books. I read the Wikipedia pages about the books, and one of the books had even been turned into a movie, which I watched the night before the final. Luckily that movie-book was one of the options for writing the essay, so it all turned out okay. But it certainly didn't turn out as good as it could have, and the two panic-filled days of studying prior to the final could have gone a lot smoother if I'd only prepared a little better.

Or, you know, done anything at all during the entire semester leading up to the final.

Why do people procrastinate? A quick search will give you a myriad of answers. Because people don't know where to start, because they don't know how, because they're afraid of failure, etc. For me, it's usually because there's other stuff to do. Other stuff that's less useful but somehow more interesting than the task at hand. And as long as there's still time to get the important thing done, why not do the fun thing first?

This approach works for me, but only as long as there's a firm deadline in place. If A needs to be done by B, it'll get done by B. It'll probably be started the day before B, regardless of how much time I have to do it, but hey. It gets done. But when you don't have a firm deadline, like when you're a self-publishing author, this method can mess you up real good. With no external force holding your feet to the fire, you have to learn to do it for yourself. Easier said than done, I'm afraid. I'm still figuring this out. All I've got so far is that you should pick one thing, work to completion, then start the next thing. Because any good procrastinator knows that as long as you've got options, nothing's gonna get done. And if nothing gets done, well...

Then you become that third kind of person.

Can a procrastinator ever become a non-procrastinator? Maybe. Just like a night owl can, over time and with great discipline, become a morning person, a procrastinator can probably learn to procrastinate less. But I think some people, myself included, work well under pressure, and that's not necessarily something you want to demonize or try to eliminate. But a little planning can go a long way, and there's probably a balance to be had somewhere.

You're going to find that balance. Someday.

But in the meantime, check out this awesome TED talk on what it's like to be a procrastinator. It's not like you've got anything else to do.