Why we procrastinate and why that’s fantastic

Image: davidd

An admirable list. Image: davidd

You have an exam on Friday.

You have not started studying.

You decided four hours ago that you shall not start studying until tomorrow. You just had an exam today, after all. You deserve a break. You’ll just make up for lost time on Wednesday and Thursday, when you’ll really knuckle down. Yeah.


This time of year, pretty much anything we do can be chalked up to procrastinating. Cooking (a friend of mine is an avid procrastibaker), reading, cleaning the house, writing blog posts—despite doing these perfectly legitimate and productive activities, we feel crappy because we’re not doing the most important thing, which is apparently memorising crap.

For my last birthday, I received the book “The Art of Procrastination” by John Perry. I put off an essay for two days while I read it, but it does make some good points—

THE FIRST GOOD POINT: Human beings are not rational. We don’t necessarily want to do the things that are in our best interests. That’s the only reason Macca’s is still around. We want the good experiences now, because we can think about how good we’ll feel after finishing that report and getting a fantastic mark, but that’s all in our heads, and our heads are kind of stupid. Abstract imaginings aren’t the strongest motivator, especially if we don’t really care that much about fantastic marks. And so we watch cat videos, and that mark goes from being a life-is-great-and-I’m-awesome kind of fantastic to a there’s-a-unicorn-having-a-tea-party-in-the-yard kind of fantastic.

THE SECOND GOOD POINT: We can be super-productive by procrastinating. Thanks to my efforts to dodge studying in the last week, my room is the cleanest it’s been in months. I’ve written two blog posts in two days. Maybe the study didn’t get done (until the last possible moment, that is), but a lot of things further down the to-do list did. And that gave me all the self-satisfaction that a higher-than-usual exam result would.

But really, it’s all about perspective. If you think about it, there’s more important things in life than our to-do lists. A friend of mine (who studies biomedical science) posted on Facebook just yesterday that he had run out of origami paper to make paper cats. Apparently having exhausted that avenue of procrastination, he’d moved on to lamenting the whole situation on social media in an effort to do anything, anything but study (you can blame procrastination for the endless posts by students about procrastination. We don’t want to do any work, so we whinge about how we can’t get anything done). But I’m sure making all those cats gave him much joy—perhaps just enough to compensate for a failing grade.

But procrastinating with cat videos? That’s just sad. Step away from the Youtube and no-one gets hurt.

…Yes, cat origami is okay.


3 responses to “Why we procrastinate and why that’s fantastic

  1. Surely the-unicorn-having-a-tea-party-in-the-backyard mark is far superior than the life-is-great-&-I’m-awesome kinda mark…. Maybe you need to spend some time reviewing the qualities of your marking criteria pseudonyms….. 🙂

    • Fantastical things (like unicorns) are always better than fantastic things (like summer holidays). Unfortunately, fantastical things are, by definition, too hardcore to exist in reality. I don’t make the rules of linguistics. Or life. Who do you think I am?

  2. Pingback: Surviving this Semester: A veteran’s guide | Backseat Clarity·

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