To whom it may concern

Putting it off until tomorrow

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.)

OKAY FINE.

I always had a thing for Adama and Roslin. I understand that this makes me very weird. But I am okay with that.

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 an old tank top, 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 – and let the record stand that I did.

BUT.

I also 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.

Very true. And also a great way to procrastinate.
Very true. And also a great way to procrastinate.

(A friend who wishes to remain anonymous confessed to once 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.

17 thoughts on “Putting it off until tomorrow

    1. Do you know the great Ron Swanson quote?

      “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” (My apologies if I have already left this as a message another time – I have a terrible memory for these kinds of things!)

      And yes, sometimes, those gears just wont shift, no matter how hard you try!

  1. This blog post was far longer than some of your more recent ones, so I’m procrastinating reading the second half to savor the first half. (That’s what I’m telling my A.D.D. self.)

    “I felt chills run the length of my spine – the kind that makes you feel completely clammy, as though your entire body is blushing.” Clammy from blushing? I don’t think so. If this is happening to you when you’re blushing, seek medical attention at nearest hospital immediately.

    I prefer dilly-dallying of the procrastinating synonyms you listed.

    On the fourth theory for procrastination…of COURSE we put off things we don’t want to do for things we enjoy doing and which are “easier to attain.” I’d like the job of the person who wrote that theory. Easy job, great pay, I’m sure. If I can drink the milk from a container rather than milk it myself, why bother? (Unless I’m a dairy farmer, which I am not, and to any dairy farmers reading my comment on this blog post, I’m forever grateful for your profession. I’d never have known the glorious beverage that is milk.)

    (To be continued…until I read the second half.)

    1. Dilly-dallying is such a good word.

      Full-body blush always makes me think of really embarrassing or awkward situations. That make me feel feverish – so chills and clamminess. Cheek blush is much better (in my opinion anyway!) :)

  2. Thank you for putting such a positive spin on procrastination! I have a to-do list a mile long that is constantly telling me that I’m lazy and need to get my head out of the clouds and get to work. I’m not going to feel bad anymore that I chose to watch two episodes of Orange is the New Black last night instead of doing the dishes! I learned a lot about prison life and you never know, that might come in handy someday!

    1. First – Orange is the New Black is so good! I just finished it a couple of days ago. So refreshing to see a tv show with flushed out female characters (it kills me a little bit that I am evening saying this!) Good grief.

      And heck lady, you are one of the most productive people I know (e-know?) and you deserve some time to kick back and unwind! xx

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed this post; more than most (perhaps owing to the fact that I am supposed to be completing my coworker’s tasks right now since she got pulled off to do a project). Fan-Fiction is such a weird thing; I feel such huge amounts of derision towards it, yet a week or two ago in an effort to not finish the novella that I am trying to self-publish, I started writing vaguely erotic fanfic. Hopefully when I send my story to my editor I have enough foresight to send her the fantasy novella and not the “fantasy” novella.

    1. First – I WANT TO READ YOUR BOOK. More details please, and let me know when you are finished. That is super cool dude!

      Second – I am exactly the same way as you when it comes to FF. Never written it, but somehow, every so often, it sucks me in. (Also, when I was like, fourteen, I read a TON of Mulder + Scully fanfic.)

  4. Self-sabotage or a survival skill? IDK. Sometimes, at least for me, I feel like getting the reward first helps me achieve the goal in the end. Know what I mean? Of course, it doesn’t always work, LOL!

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