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December 24, 2013 > The Bookworm column: The Art of Procrastination by John Perry

The Bookworm column: The Art of Procrastination by John Perry

The big project youÕve got on your desk is due on Thursday.

And so far today, youÕve managed to get a lot done. YouÕve cleaned your middle drawer, checked emails, faxed an order you shouldÕve sent to the vendor last week, organized lunch for ThursdayÕs meeting, and found that management book your co-worker wanted to read.

Yes, youÕve accomplished a lot today. Just not on the big project.

But go back and think: you got a lot done, so carpe tomorrow. In the new book ÒThe Art of ProcrastinationÓ by John Perry, youÕll see how foot-dragging may be a step in the right direction.

Humans are supposedly rational beings, known for higher-thinking brains. We can, therefore, prognosticate enough to recognize that unpleasant or necessary tasks will eventually need doing Ð so why do we put them off until the last minute?

ItÕs because we tend to act against our better judgments, which Plato and Aristotle called akrasia. When akrasia consists of dawdling, Perry (who is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Stanford) likes to refer to it as structured procrastination, and itÕs not necessarily a bad thing.

HereÕs why: like most people, you probably have a daily to-do list. On it, there are a small number of things you need to complete, and one of them is very important. With little-to-no effort, you can generally finish the lesser tasks each day and you feel good crossing them off the list. That, Perry says, is how secret procrastinators get a reputation for getting lots of things done.

But remember, the important task is still on the list.

Eventually, says Perry, and probably before your deadline, the once-onerous task will become do-able when something less appealing bumps it from the top spot on your list. Or youÕre in a better mood to do it. Or you finally figure out a plan. Thus, structured procrastination turns your negative trait into a positive.

ÒThe trick,Ó he says, Òis to pick the right sorts of projects for the top of the list.Ó

And if that doesnÕt give you the psychological boost you need, try doing the task in small bites. Play ÒperkyÓ music to get you going. Find a collaborator who takes responsibility for your time-frame, or just go ahead and embrace your procrastination. You might be surprised at what you can accomplish.

At just 112 pages, ÒThe Art of ProcrastinationÓ seems more like a pamphlet than a book; indeed, author John Perry says this mini-volume sprang from a previously-published essay. That makes it quick-to-read Ð but thereÕs a lot to learn.

Perry makes readers laugh at themselves with real information presented in a lighthearted, decidedly un-scholarly manner. Yes, this is a fun book, but itÕs not frivolous: Perry eventually admits that procrastination is really not a good trait, but that it can be handled with the right attitude.

So if your entire life runs a day behind everyone elseÕs, or if youÕve fruitlessly poked a Poky One, ÒThe Art of ProcrastinationÓ might help deal with the situation. Grab this book. Read it.

DonÕt wait.


c.2012, Workman Publishing
$12.95 / $14.95 Canada
112 pages

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