Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Procrastinate Now!

Today I face two work deadlines, three weeks of laundry, four important phone calls and a school gardening club. My time is finely carved, yet there is one thing I know I shall devote myself to unstintingly: procrastination.  

This week researchers announced that we waste three years of our lives and 69 minutes of our day putting off essential tasks. Some of us can squander as much as two hours in 24, especially if we are women and especially if we live in Cambridge.  Now I am a woman and I once lived in Cambridge where, as I recall, we did indeed neglect needful chores such as stocking our larders and cleaning our rooms in order to fathom cosmic mysteries in The Bath inn.

I am therefore amply qualified to procrastinate and procrastinate I do with gusto, which is why I'm writing this blog post instead of rinsing the family smalls. I take issue, however, with idea that those of us who have perfected this art are wasting our lives. Why, while other people are toiling over their tax returns, I am totting up notional bills from The White Stuff catalogue. While they waste hours a week ironing tea towels I'm inflating the annual profits of Waterstones with assiduous novel-reading. The adrenalin rush the night before the tax return deadline gets the job done far more quickly than if I'd committed my leisure to the task in early summer - and everyone knows that tea towels don't need ironing.

My life is productive and fulfilled because I procrastinate.  The French understand this. Last year they declared an International Procrastination  Day, although celebrants were welcome to defer their festivities. 'To procrastinate,' said its founder David d'Equainville, 'is to refuse to do what the context - be it from bosses, administrative obligations or a culture of results - asks us to do. We absolutely must take the time to think about the tasks we accept to execute or else we will lose all control over our lives.'

He confirms what I have always known. Every day I take the time to think about making the beds. Come evening we are in them again, and I rejoice in my forbearance, for why smooth the duvets when, a few hours later, they'll be disordered again? Every day I contemplate my towering in-tray. When, weeks later, I get round to tackling it, most of the deadlines and requirements within have expired and can be effortlessly binned.  When a household appliance breaks down I patiently work round it. The Vicar mocks my scientific theory, but it's a truth I've often experienced that ailing electrical equipment is healed by a nice long rest. Why, my printer sprang to life after a six-month coma. Only for half a morning, admittedly, but  I'm hopeful another season of recuperation will fully resurrect it.

At 5pm most evenings I panic about what to feed the children because I've put off stocking the fridge. But, after a soothing hour of digging in my borders, I will invariably discover a carrot and a half emptied tin of proteins in an overlooked cupboard and the crisis - and supermarket drudgery - is averted.

Those who dismiss procrastination as laziness are benighted. It is simply a sensible savouring of the moment. Marcel Duchamps spent half a lifetime dawdling over a few surrealist art works but was hailed as a genius when he died.  Marcel Proust turned procrastination into a literary art form and Douglas Adams famously relished the 'whoosh' of missed deadlines passing over his head.

Scientists have even come up with an equation for the habit U=EV/ID, which is mathematical proof that procrastinators are not ineffectual idlers, but strong minds who have mastered the skill of stretching time. If investment bankers had procrastinated a little more they might not have gambled the national economy. If governments dallied before they pronounced they would face fewer humiliating U-turns. And if you tea-towel ironers are still not persuaded, Shakespeare has the clincher, for as David d'Equainville says: 'If Romeo had put off his suicide a bit on Juliet's tomb, the two love birds could have grown old together.'

Are you an expert procrastinator? Have you suggestions of more 'essential' chores that can be painlessly put off?

26 comments:

  1. I've been known to put off planting new plants for so long that they've died and saved me the bother.

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    1. I don't approve of that kind of procrastination!

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  2. I would comment, but am busy procrastinating...

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  3. I find making a coffee and taking a 'quick' look at Twitter induces a mad rush of washing up a whole day's stuff in the evening, before the others get home. Cuts the time in half I say.

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    1. Absolutely. Twitter is the perfect medium for procrastination.

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  4. Oh I love it - just what I needed to read right now (when I should be clearing out my mailbox, doing the washing up, preparing for bedtimes etc etc)

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    1. Good girl! You just keep on reading. I find someone else usually does the washing up if you leave it long enough.

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  5. It is one of my very favourite words and I do it ALL the time. In fact, I might show my husband your post, just to prove that it's not just me. He thinks I am tardy. When really I am contemplating, evaluating and...well...procrastinating! Sod the bloody ironing, there's writing, thinking and reading to be done!

    WISH we had spoken more....(and you Kate - I was in awe of the two of you together!)

    Must go and do something. Useful, dammit, useful.

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    1. I'm in awe of the fact you were in awe of me. It was, in fact, the other way round. I was tongue-tied by your Jerry Hall glamour.

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  6. So many good points, farewell tea towel ironing...

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  7. Twitter is my friend when it comes to procrastination. Although that pile of wet washing that I've yet to hang up may disagree...

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    1. Just leave it long enough and it will smell so funny you have to put it through the hot cycle again and that'll buy you another 12 hours.

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  8. Im a quarter of the qway through cleaning my house (which has to be done today as we have visitors over the weekend). So here I am online. Don't forget positive procrastination whereby a whole load of little things get done while you're avoiding th ebiggy and persuading yourself that you are still working. Also, as mentioned above, many things become obsolete or sort themselves out if you leave them long enough. I may go back to my cleanong now...or not.

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    1. Twitter has ruined my domesticity. Am able to dust half a room before rushing to check my timeline which means I never get finished.

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  9. Well that has to be my feelgood post of the day ... Sod the shopping, sod the post office. After Little A wakes up from her nap, we are going to get ice creams, and I will think about the food in the cupboard, and tea (we say tea up north!) later. I can't tell you how much that post de-stressed me!

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    1. I've been trying to spread the word for years. Got as far as deterring one house-proud friend from ironing duvet covers, but upon sight of one crumple she cursed me and relapsed.

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  10. Slowness is blessed. I'll comment tomorrow...

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  11. Oh dear, you do make me laugh. Of course, reading other people being funny is a good form of procrastination.

    Looking at the Boden catalogue is a good way to put off writing articles.

    What really irks me is that it takes me so long even to post a letter. I wrote one last Tuesday and posted it today. Why did I put it off for ten days?

    The children break up on Wednesday, so I should be doing all kinds of useful jobs now. But I'm not.

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  12. I do iron towels, though. Our house is falling down, so ironed towels give me a feeling of being in control.

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    1. I so wish you hadn't said that. I thought we were alter egos!

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    2. My mother ironed underpants, so I am doing relatively well if it is only towels. I don't iron anything else, I hasten to add. I do have good intentions, but school uniform always seems to flatten itself out while being worn.

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  13. Anoop Singh-Best7 July 2012 at 04:56

    Fab post. I am the Queen of procrastination and totally agree, things done at the last minute take a lot less time. Always the danger of forgetting something vital but ho hum, that's easily sorted the next day, or the day after.....
    All this reminds me of one of my favourite jokes... Ready?...
    "What do we want"?
    "Procrastination"
    "When do we want it"?
    "Next week....."
    You're welcome ;-)

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    1. I knew I liked the cut of your gib from Twitter!

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