Sunday, October 17, 2010

Getting round to it

Belgianwaffle linked to this fascinating article on procrastination in The New Yorker. Despite my initial impulse to bookmark it for later, I managed to read the whole thing with only a few pauses to look at pages in other tabs; to get a cup of coffee; to check my e-mail; to update my facebook status; to make a move in Words .... I particularly identified with the paragraph below.

Academics, who work for long periods in a self-directed fashion, may be especially prone to putting things off: surveys suggest that the vast majority of college students procrastinate, and articles in the literature of procrastination often allude to the author’s own problems with finishing the piece. (This article will be no exception.) But the academic buzz around the subject isn’t just a case of eggheads rationalizing their slothfulness. As various scholars argue in “The Thief of Time,” edited by Chrisoula Andreou and Mark D. White (Oxford; $65)—a collection of essays on procrastination, ranging from the resolutely theoretical to the surprisingly practical—the tendency raises fundamental philosophical and psychological issues. You may have thought, the last time you blew off work on a presentation to watch “How I Met Your Mother,” that you were just slacking. But from another angle you were actually engaging in a practice that illuminates the fluidity of human identity and the complicated relationship human beings have to time. Indeed, one essay, by the economist George Ainslie, a central figure in the study of procrastination, argues that dragging our heels is “as fundamental as the shape of time and could well be called the basic impulse.”


materfamilias said...

Fascinating, indeed. I've had your post bookmarked trying to find time to get back to read and comment. Still putting off reading The New Yorker article (thus refusing to procrastinate, actually, since reading it would be a diversion from work on my desk).
The Ainslie comment re procrastinating being a basic impulse tempts me to link it with that other basic or primary impulse -- the one Freud identified as thanatos. Or I am being too fanciful there? At any rate, I'm going to try to read that article and would actually love to read the Oxford essay collection.

Dick said...

The thief of time, indeed. What an interesting read. I certainly find that now that I'm retired and can see the edges of pretty much all that I'm involved in, I have much more control over planning and implementation. In fact, the sense of actually achieving a set of objectives without first having to contemplate the towering peaks that have yet to be negotiated is intoxicating!

Lucy said...

'actually engaging in a practice that illuminates the fluidity of human identity and the complicated relationship human beings have to time.'

That makes me feel better! It's a fine line between procrastinating and prioritising, I think. The internet does provide ample opportunity for it, it's true, but then sometimes I read something that inspires me and spurs me to action too.

Also, though putting things off is sometimes bad, hastiness and impatient action can be mistaken too, and sometimes letting things mull a bit doesn't hurt. I'm aware that could be dishonest rationalisation, but being married to someone who's inclined to rush at things and want things done yesterday I am aware that a bit of thought and delay sometimes wouldn't hurt.

Now the question is, do I put off the washing up and go and read that article, or do I tell myself that I'll read it later because there's other things I must do, and never get around to it? Which is procrastination?

deborah said...

Er, think I will have to read this several times ... will leave another comment ... soon!

Lesley said...

@Materfamilias : I'd love to read the collection too. I'm not so sure about procrastination being driven by thanatos - surely it's the urge to experience more interesting /less predictable things that drives us to procrstinate, not the desire for death?

@Dick : Yes, retirement must provide a life that can be lived in more manageable chunks. I'm currently working on a book project with a publication date of 2014. I sometimes find that's an edge blurry enough and far enough away for me to ignore it!

@Lucy : Absolutely - the line between prioritising is a fine one, although I know that playing scrabble online instead of getting down to something meatier is definitely not wise prioritising!

@Deborah : Stop procrastinating and get back here with a proper comment!