Friday, November 17, 2017

Fun Friday Facts #121: Procrastination

I’ve been putting the meow in homeowner since May 2012, and here’s what I’ve learned: To be a homeowner is to put things off. In my garage is a stack of flooring material that I bought two years ago, but haven’t installed yet, for example.

Psychology Today defines procrastination as “a downward spiral of negative emotions that deter future effort” which…sounds about right, actually. According to an Atlantic article appropriately titled, “The Procrastination Doom Loop and How to Break It,” procrastination is all about feelings. I, for example, don’t feel like tearing up the carpet in two rooms and replacing it with laminate flooring, so I find other things to do instead, like sleep and pity myself.

Procrastination is a circular problem. The more you procrastinate, the more “anxious, guilty, and even ashamed” you feel, so the more you procrastinate, so the more you hate yourself, and so on. While modern advances in technology have made procrastination, like so many other things, easier than ever, procrastination has a long and storied history. As long ago as 700 BCE, the Greek poet Hesiod rails against procrastination in “Works and Days”: Do not put your work off till to-morrow and the day after; for a sluggish worker does not fill his barn…a man who puts off work is always at hand-grips with ruin.


If you, like me, are prone to procrastination, you’re in good company; the great Leonardo da Vinci completed only 20 paintings in his lifetime, instead filling his spare time with doodle after fantastic doodle of helicopters, stunningly accurate maps, and naked men doing jumping jacks. It took him 16 years to finish the Mona Lisa because he worked on it for four years, then stopped working on it, then worked on it again, and…well, you get the idea.

English writer and possible founder of the English novel Samuel Johnson took seven years to produce an edition of Shakespeare’s plays, which job he was assigned in 1756, because he got another idea and got distracted. OH SAMMY, I KNOW THE FEELING. That distracting idea became his collection of essays, The Idler. Writers have always struggled with procrastination; some of us, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, get interrupted by an opium delivery, get high and forget to finish writing Kubla Khan. I would never do such a thing, of course. Instead, I’m more like Margaret Atwood – I put off writing until late in the day, then when I finally get around to it, I end up staying up half the night, then sleep late the next day and wake up feeling like crap, both physically and emotionally. But at least we know that procrastination can’t stop us from achieving great things; even the Dalai Llama admits that, as a student, he’d only work “in the face of a difficult challenge or an urgent deadline.” Then again, Dalai Llama-ing is, as I understand it, one of those careers that chooses you. Perhaps, the next time you’re stuck in the doom loop, remember some of the other famous procrastinators that have walked in your shoes: Saint Augustine, Bill Clinton, Victor Hugo, Frank Lloyd Wright, Franz Kafka, Marcus Aurelius, and Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

“But what,” you say, “should we do about procrastination?” Dear readers, what you need is a deadline, and here’s the thing: It has to be a deadline imposed from outside. Unfortunately for me, no one is going to march up in here and order me to finish my floors by a certain date, and don’t look at Jim, he knows what side his bread’s buttered on. If that’s not an option, you should convince yourself that the chore isn’t work. Hmmm, that doesn’t really sound like a feasible solution, either. What the hell, science.