The Art of Procrastination

The Link, Spring 2018
| by David Newland |

Why put off until tomorrow what you can put off until the day after? That’s the question of the highly effective procrastinator. And by that, I mean someone who procrastinates who is highly effective. Namely, me.

We live in a world that is obsessed with time. The moment kids toddle off to their first dance lessons or soccer games they are subject to the tyranny of clocks and calendars. School doesn’t start when everyone arrives; it starts at a specific hour, and if you don’t make it you’re in trouble.

In the workplace the stakes are even higher: time is money, so if you ‘waste time’ or fail to arrive ‘on time’ you’re ‘costing the company money.’ Everything from public transit, to television programs, to public events, is run by the clock.

“…the power of perfectly productive procrastination!”

The result of all of this is to leave us feeling like the White Rabbit in Wonderland, compulsively checking our watches (or more like phones these days), always worried that we’re late. This constant concern about time, and timeliness, is anxiety-inducing, irritating and unnatural. It leads to line-ups and phone queues and traffic jams. It’s completely counter to all our instincts, too: in nature, everything happens when it’s ripe or ready, not when the schedule says so.

That’s why I’m proud of my lifelong efforts to improve my ability to procrastinate. At a certain point, after worrying about one more thing due for delivery at a specific time and a specific place, I decided to honour my own inclinations and simply put if off. What would happen if I just stopped fussing until I was actually ready to produce the thing – or until there was simply no choice? What happened was that I delivered when I was ready to deliver. And that’s it.

In other words, I took ‘should’ out of the equation. Nothing good can come of should. There are two real incentives: I want to, and I must. Those are what guide my actions now.

All that time I used to spend worrying or fruitlessly going at some problem because I should, is now freed up for things I want to do and things I have to do. It’s magic! Perfecting procrastination has improved the quality of my work, too. I only work at things when I am urged on by the ultimate incentives of my own desire or total necessity.

Plus, there’s something great that happens when you decide your own intuition is a better judge of how to spend your time than any external force. Your heart knows what you really care about. Your gut knows how much effort a project really needs. Your mind can take a hike in the meantime and probably should. Taking a hike is good for your well-being.

I should know. I’m late filing this column. I didn’t do it when I should have. I’m doing it now, when I must. Voilà! The results speak for themselves, right? (Here’s hoping the editor agrees!)

Chalk up one more win for the power of perfectly productive procrastination!

David is a writer and musician based in Cobourg. In November of 2015, David was named a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, a distinction that reflects a lifelong engagement with landscape and story.