June 4, 2004

Procrastination: Theory and Experiment

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at June 4, 2004 6:04 PM

I discovered via Crooked Timber a fascinating essay on structured procrastination. The author prescribes a technique for rendering productive one's procrastinative tendencies:

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.

It turns out that recently I have been unconsciously following this advice; it seems that I do get more things done while maintaining a to-do list even though I'm not actually crossing a whole lot of major items off the list.

Also, I undertook my (approximately) yearly cleaning of my office desk yesterday as a way of not doing more important things, and I am quite pleased with the result. I thus concluded that I should find some important task at home that I can put off by cleaning my apartment. The problem here is that it is in such dire need of cleaning that I can't think of much that could supplant it at the top of the list, apart from, say, paying the PG&E bill after a certain point, but it's difficult to run the vacuum without power, so this could be self-defeating.

Anyone have procrastination techniques to recommend?


When in doubt, do laundry.

Posted by: mama-san | June 5, 2004 9:31 AM

You know, some of my procrastination is like that too---as in 'see what papers have been posted on the arXiv' instead of doing actual research, which feels like a bit of a break in part because of the reduction in intellectual challenge.

Of course, there is the 'go to espn.com' type of procrastination as well.

Posted by: Mason Porter | June 14, 2004 2:30 PM

You know, I think that comment was going to be longer, but someone knocked on my door, so I had to cut it short. Please forgive me. :)

I'm not sure the rest of what I was going to say, but I mentioned all the main stuff.

Posted by: Mason Porter | June 14, 2004 8:43 PM
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