THE ART OF PROCRASTINATION
I started writing this essay in 1981 and then put it aside. Procrastinating for over two decades sounds really bad, but I think it is probably quite common. A friend of mine has not traveled outside the United States since 1952 when his parents took him to Mexico. He always said he was going to venture beyond our borders again, but he as yet to do so. I asked him about it recently and he said, "I'll get around to it one of these days." I told him that he will also "be dead one of these days." It's hard to procrastinate on that. Or perhaps death is the ultimate in procrastination.
It is rare that people put off doing things they really want to do. It is the things we are not excited about doing that we put off – especially if there is not much pressure do to them. However there has to be some pressure to act or it doesn't count as procrastination. For example, I've never had a drink of urine because I've never had sufficient pressure to do so. I use that example because of an incident in college when a drunk, dorm mate did just that on a $100 bet. It made a lasting impression on my view of human nature.
Being drunk definitely changes the nature of procrastination. So does mob mentality and its executive equivalent, which is known as Group Think. The prerequisite for procrastination is simply an impetus to do that which you are avoiding. That impetus can be viewed as positive or negative by the procrastinator. People are often offered positive rewards for doing something they don't wish to do – like working for a living. Why else would someone drink urine? Severe thirst perhaps.
Achieving good health is certainly a positive incentive for exercise and proper eathing habits, yet most people avoid doing so. Immediate pleasure is the most common reason for this procrastination. We tend to do what gives us immediate rewards and procrastinate on the things that don't have immediate benefits. And we all tend to procrastinate doing things that are unpleasant, risky, embarrassing, scary, distasteful, repulsive, or just not enjoyable. Inertia and habit also make it hard to change course when common sense dictates we do so. Procrastination is like a teeter-totter. On one side are the pressures and reasons to act, and on the other side are the reasons we avoid action.
My reason for writing this, which I've been avoiding, is to make the case for procrastination. Merriam-Webster defines procrastination as, "to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done." I think there are many situations where one should procrastinate. For example, throughout the history of war, when a field commander says "charge," it is the first people to do so who get killed first. That seems like a perfect time for procrastination if there ever was one. I've also discovered that doing a really good job puts you in the position of being asked more frequently to it. Thus it makes good sense to put off doing it, or not doing quite such a good job, lest you be imposed upon again.
In making decisions, procrastination is often a wise course of action as long as it is done in moderation. Excess is not a virtue, whether it involves haste or procrastination. Putting off a decision that doesn't have a deadline is wise, because time usually provides additional information with which to make a better decision. The classic example of this is provided by people who marry in haste and then regret it. Getting engaged should be viewed as a lease with an option to buy, rather than a commitment to marry. There is nothing like living in a house that you are leasing in order to get a good feel for whether you wish to own it. Obviously engagement is a higher level of commitment, but it is also a commitment to explore the idea of marriage. If more people would look at it as such, perhaps the divorce rate would not be over 50%.
A good female friend of mine has what she calls the 5-minute rule. Whenever she is in a first-time, passionate situation with someone new, she calls a time-out for 5 minutes, leaves the situation and goes off by her self to gather her wits and try to regain some objectivity. Then she makes her decision about what to do. When you find yourself about to "go with the flow," procrastination is usually a wise course of action -- and certainly one that could have prevented overpopulation.
People who write for a living, always write, rewrite, and rewrite again, putting it down for periods of time (assuming they don't have a deadline) and then coming back with a fresh perspective. Of course they rarely do what I have done, and put it aside for 25 years.