Friday, October 5, 2018

Friday Feature: The Pros of Procrastination

Several years ago, I read a great little book on procrastination. I found it quite by accident in a local independent bookstore and I re-read (and re-investigate) its first chapter every year in my first year seminar. It's not a self-help book (though it is classified as such on Amazon), nor is it filled with recriminations. Instead, it describes what the author, philosopher John Perry, dubs "structured procrastination."

I can identify. In fact, I'm doing just that right now. I planned to read a few of the papers I have to grade (for those same first year seminar students) before I left for class this morning, but instead, I am writing this blog post. Both need to be done, but instead of doing the thing I planned to do (or was supposed to do, if you will), I'm doing something else. I'm not procrastinating by watching TV or taking a nap (although I do those things, too); I'm simply avoiding doing one thing by doing another. It feels virtuous, in a way, because I'm accomplishing something.

It's just not the thing I was supposed to be accomplishing at the time.

A recent study revealed a difference between the brains of procrastinators and the brains of doers. Put simply, we (procrastinators) have a different relationship with risk, fear and emotion than doers do, something that the researchers have attributed to differences in the volume and relationship between certain brain structures.

If that's true, structured procrastination makes a lot of sense. We put off doing less desirable tasks in order to do more desirable tasks because emotion plays a bigger role in our decisions. Case in point: I'd rather write this blog post than grade those papers so, here I am! Still, finishing this will be rewarding for me because then it will be posted and I can check it off my list. Not so for those papers; in the time I have before class, I'll only get through two or three. I can make a dent, but not complete the task.

Do you procrastinate? (Don't be embarrassed if your answer is yes -- I firmly believe that everyone procrastinates some time). While Perry's book won't provide a lot of advice on how to stop being a structured procrastinator, there are plenty of resources that will. This article by psychotherapist Jude Bijou offers eight steps for conquering procrastination and, considering the source, it's not surprising that she takes feelings into consideration.

Personally, I don't see procrastination as a bad thing, unless it interferes with meeting deadlines and accomplishing important tasks, or if causes so much stress that it interferes with someone's mental health. On numerous occasions, my procrastination has actually been beneficial, allowing ideas to simmer while I worked on something else, or giving me the opportunity to enjoy someone's company instead of keeping my nose to the grindstone. Sure, it's important to get things done, but balance is important, too, and sometimes, following the path of procrastination can leads us to some unexpectedly good places.

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