The unrealised skill behind procrastination may lie in getting the wrong stuff done.
I’ve had a book about procrastination on my bedside table for over four months now. I haven’t gotten around to finishing it. I have however, planned a hypothetical menu for a dinner party where all the food is served on skewers and chosen an outfit for the launch of the novel I fully intend to write.
Deadline looming, I pause momentarily to tap out the rhythm to ‘Wipe Out’ on the keyboard. Pleased with my excellent groove, it occurs to me that there may be more to procrastination than a crippling inability to finish anything. Ever. Watching the kettle boil for my sixth cup of tea, I become certain that it is in fact, a kind of creative evolution.
It’s just semantics. Maybe when I desperately need to finish something, I should instead set about alphabetising and facing all my CD’s spine out, controversially creating a separate section for bands beginning with ‘The’. Inevitably, somewhere around ‘The Killers’ or ‘The Kooks’, I will stray from this task and end up finishing that other thing. Effectively procrastinating, but really, just genius.
I shouldn’t even own CD’s.
So, how do you know if you’re a procrastinator? More than likely you’re surrounded by a disproportionate number of post-it notes all containing one word clues to potential deliverance from poverty. You fear crossing the road in heavy traffic because you may actually die having produced little more than fourteen pencil-scrawled first verses to lame country songs, five-eighths of a teal scarf and the intention to master contemporary hip hop. Also, you really wish you hadn’t told 85 of your closest friends about that screenplay you’re writing, having established only a title and the protagonist’s first name.
It’s not finished yet but I’m putting together a list of possible manifestations of procrastination to aid in self-diagnosis. These include:
- Attempting to break sticky tape off in exact one-centimetre squares.
- Finding the silhouette of ‘Charlie’s Angels’ in the desk wood grain.
- Hypothetically translating the word ‘Rake’ into Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Korean, Spanish, Russian and Portuguese.
- Drawing symmetrical raindrops over and over and over and over again.
- Calculating exactly how much money will be required to become the patron of the three-day-weekend party.
- Plucking your eyebrows with your non-dominant hand.
- Building farmyard animals out of bluetak
- Repeating points 1 through 7
Don’t be alarmed if you recognise yourself here, you are in good company. Imagine if we collectively evolved into a breed devoid of procrastination - we may be self-sustainable, disease free and spending every other weekend on Mars, but who would genre-sectionalise the spice-rack?
Beware of those who ‘get things done’ - don’t be fooled by the smug list keepers and the busy people. Busy people procrastinate too, they just get fitter doing it.
Procrastination is just momentum in disguise. An innate Darwinian mechanism designed to draw out the Steinbecks from the Steels, the probability of sifting countless unfinished, half-witted and diabolical ideas through time, eventually leaving the nugget of gold. Its existence may be the only thing stopping us doing a good thing too soon: nature’s keeper of the story in three acts. Genius cannot be hurried, in fact, Da Vinci was such a noted procrastinator that it was said his contractors had to threaten to cut off his hand before he would advance his work.
So, the next time you find yourself bleaching all your shoelaces, designing an alternative to ‘Where’s Wally?’ called ‘Where’s Steve?’ or sharpening every lead pencil in the house. Don’t get all Vinci and call your closest friend to co-ordinate a time for them to partly remove one of your extremities, don’t chant ‘he who hesitates is last (Mae West). Think instead: maybe, we’re saving the best…
Geez, there’s a lot of fur on this chair, I think I need to vacuum the cat… immediately.