Hey dudes. I really hope that wherever you are, you are warm and snuggly. Please, cozy up to a double fire, pour yourself a hot toddy, and enjoy not doing whatever it is you are supposed to be doing.
I wrote this piece in celebration of finishing up grad school when I was very sure that I would come out of graduation with both an MA in Social Sciences and Youtube:
I realized I had a problem when I began reading Battlestar Gallactica fan-fiction on the internet.
I suppose this wouldn’t have been so bad if I had either been a) a fan of the show or b) someone who regularly enjoyed world-wide ready smut, but as I was neither, warning bells were quick to sound.
(The worse of it? I actually had to SIGN UP to gain access to the website.)
It was a Tuesday at two in the morning, and I was mashed into a kitchen chair with my knees pressed up against my chest and my slippers half slid off my feet, feeling kind of turned on, but mostly horrified. Dressed in my husband’s boxers and a wife beater my mother had purchased for me (before she realized that wife beater actually stood for “wife beater”) I felt chills run the length of my spine – the kind that makes you feel completely clammy, as though your entire body is blushing.
I stumbled to my feet. The need to get away from the computer, and its mocking stare was overpowering; I felt nauseous. As I stepped backwards I tripped over my cat’s overturned scratching post. Cracking my knee against the desk, I toppled to the ground.
As my face made contact with the carpet, the face of the evil force that had lead to this late-night, lackluster climax (metaphorically, not literally) rushed up to greet me.
This was procrastination beyond anything I had ever known.
It must be noted that I had every intention of writing this post at the last minute –as any piece on procrastination is wont to be, I’m sure – yet instead, I decided to do a little bit of research.
For instance, did you know that the origin of the word is derived from the Latin pro, meaning “forward, forth, or in favor of,” and crastinus, meaning “of tomorrow”? And that it can be defined as “to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse-off for the delay”?
Synonyms include: frivoling, idling, dilly-dallying, loafing, puttering and trifling.
Examples of procrastination often cited include: frenetically cleaning, exercising, cooking, baking, watching television, completing crosswords, obsessively checking e-mail and trolling online gossip and sporting websites.
(A friend who wishes to remain anonymous confessed to visiting soapopera.net to read the episode recaps of shows she didn’t even watch.)
However this is not to say that there aren’t numerous inventive, creative and incredibly interesting ways to pass the time when you are not doing the thing (whatever it is) you are supposed to be doing.
I once met a guy, a then UBC MFA student who recounted how he makes lists whenever he procrastinates. I thought this to be rather mundane (everybody makes to-do lists!) and asked him to elaborate.
“No,” he told me. “You don’t quite understand. I don’t just make lists. I make lists and then I memorize them. For example, the 1987-88 NHL scoring race went as such: Lemieux 168, Gretzky 149, Savard 131, Hawerchuk 121, Robitaille 111…”
I sat there stunned as he rattled off the top ten point leaders as well as their totals.
“There are only so many times you can look at something until it sticks with you,” he told me. “For a while it was NHL stats. I pick and choose what I want to learn about I suppose.”
Another friend told me how when he procrastinates he obsesses over bicycling infrastructure.
“Does that have something to do with the actual construction of the bike?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “It means that I lust after places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam,” he explained.
I didn’t tell him that I thought that was pretty darn weird. I mean, who was I to judge?
So why do we procrastinate? There are four main theories on this topic. The first concerns a fear of anxiety, fear of failure or pursuit of perfectionism. The conceit being, the more an individual fears the task at hand the more anxious they become about starting. Therefore, they are more likely to put it off, hence a need to procrastinate.
The second theory is that of self-handicapping. This is when people place obstacles that hinder their own good performance. The motivation for self-handicapping is often to protect self-esteem by giving people an external reason, an “out,” if they fail to do well.
The third theory concerns rebelliousness. Certain personality traits, such as hostility and stubbornness supposedly leave individuals predisposed against schedules and authority and are therefore more likely to procrastinate.
The fourth is a theory that purports that we are constantly beset with making decisions among various courses of action, and as such, make decisions based on what we would rather do more. For instance, should we do homework or spend time with friends? Do we watch TV or go for a run? Study for a midterm or clean the bathroom? It suggests that individuals are more likely to take on the task that is both more enjoyable and easier to attain and put off those more difficult with varying degrees of personal satisfaction.
There are of course less academically substantiated hypotheses. These concern the beliefs that underneath it all there is a fundamental, human belief in the profundity of procrastination. Perhaps it is both part of a conscious denial of, or rebellion against the linear nature of time and the structured nature of the world that revolves around the completion of assignments, the writing of exams, and the never ending list of projects.
Procrastination is a conscious practice; it is an attempt to move beyond the moving forward; it is an exercise in existing only in a moment and trying to make that moment last forever.
Some academics believe that procrastination is a thoroughly modern invention, due to a move from an agrarian society to urban. Back in the 14th century, 98% of the population of the Western world lived on manor estates (take these statistics with a grain of salt) and spent their days working on the land of whatever lord, or earl held power. From sun up to sun down their day was mapped out – there was no time, let alone substantial resources for procrastination. It wasn’t until the advent of numerous deadlines, schedules and commitments, or ever, the advent of personal choice, that procrastination came into play.
There are a number of tests and scales that allow you to measure your own level of procrastination (just google “procrastination test.”) On the one I took I came out as a “moderate procrastinator” who “puts things off sometimes even though [I] know I shouldn’t.”
Oh yeah? What profound insight! Yeesh. (Thank goodness I didn’t have to pay money to take the test.)
Also, I couldn’t help but think as I answer all ninety-one questions was how great an exercise in procrastination it was in and out of itself. Which in turn took me back to hockey stats and bicycle paths, because it is interests like those and quizzes like the one I took that make me wonder whether or not procrastination is a bad as we have come to think.
Perhaps it less destructive and more instructive than we give it credit.
The popular adage goes: “procrastination is like masturbation – either way you’re just screwing yourself.”
I’ve come to consider that this may be the insignia of some puritanical, incredibly efficient sect, because if everyone felt as good after a day of procrastination as they did after a hour (or whatever) of self-loving, school libraries would reek less of desperation and more of quiet satisfaction.
I mean, depending on the day, the individual involved and the specific job at hand, people find themselves immersed in something they’d never before considered important and perhaps still don’t find important – yet are still learning and still growing nevertheless (Battlestar Galactica fan fiction not included.)
But the fact remains the same, we are still doing something. We are still learning something, or practicing something, or scrubbing something; at the end of the day, we will still have something to show for our efforts despite our lack of progress on our intended project.
Case in point: procrastination can lead to a tidier, germ-free apartment; knowledge about Danish cycling routes; and a windfall realization as to why identical evil twins are so damn popular on day-time TV.