Thursday, May 29, 2008

Structured Procrastination

I have been meaning to do a post on an article called "Structured Procrastination" by Stanford University Professor John Perry for more than a week -- ever since first reading about it in a post by Sully.

But, there always seemed to be something else equally important to do ...

All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.

Structured procrastination means shaping the structure of the tasks one has to do in a way that exploits this fact. The list of tasks one has in mind will be ordered by importance. Tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top. But there are also worthwhile tasks to perform lower down on the list. Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.

I'm embarrassed to admit how much of myself I see here. My college dorm room was never cleaner or better organized than the day before a midterm or a final!

1 comment:

Casey said...

That is sooooo you, Pauly! Your apartment was also always clean when you were expecting company. (And not a moment before!)

But I do that with bills and stuff. When the stack gets so high that I can't shove anymore into the box, I file them. It takes me hours and hours and if I'd do it right away, it'd take barely any time at all . . . but I never seem to remember that fact as I'm shoving them in there.

Oh well, there could be hope for us yet. :)