There are a couple of common misconceptions about procrastinators that have caused great confusion as to what procrastination really means. This flexibility can actually cause more harm than good. The most prominent place that this problem has penetrated is the shared space we call social media. I’ve seen a large number of posts where people reveal the extent of their procrastination. They usually go something like “I’m busy binge-watching anime like I don’t have an exam tomorrow morning”. What this does is that it makes us feel better about our own situations. We start to think ‘Alright, at least I’m not alone’ or ‘Alright, at least I’m not that bad’. I always equate this to the feeling I got when (in high school) I asked a fellow classmate about a test we had that day and they responded with “What test?”
The reason for this sudden increase in comfort is because our brain likes to reward us for sticking to the buddy system; ‘There’s safety in numbers’ type of thing. Being the outlier in a situation is always uncomfortable because you’re exposed to the elements. Like a discarded Spartan baby, we long for the pleasure and comfort that community can provide.
Procrastination is the delaying of something (let’s say work). By this definition, we can see that we’re all procrastinators in one-way shape or form. Cleaning your room before studying is considered procrastinating, as is getting high and watching TV. Either way, you’re procrastinating. It’s usually the latter of these two that is given the most flack. This is because there are varying degrees of procrastination; it would help to use the spectrum paradigm to visualise this.
While delaying something for 10 minutes and delaying something for 10 days are both considered procrastination, we can easily imagine there are different impacts of these actions. Postponing something indefinitely could still count as procrastination and this is where we encroach on bum territory. For this reason, it is important (for our discussion) that we distinguish between successful, semi-successful, and unsuccessful procrastination. The axiomatic criteria, for successful, is that the work gets done on time; semi-success is where the work gets done but not on time; unsuccessful, as you may have guessed, is where the work is never completed. (Homeless people are not bums! But that’s a topic for another day).
To envision this, let’s look at one of, if not, the most famous stories of procrastination. The tortoise vs the hare. The hare took an early, commanding lead and then decided to nap a little. The tortoise took the lead and made it to spitting distance of the finish line before the hare realised her mistake. The tortoise won and the hare was humiliated. The difference between a successful procrastinator and an unsuccessful one is the knowledge of self and an understanding of the task at hand; semi-successful ones usually have only one of either. A good procrastinator knows exactly what she’s capable of, what the task requires of her, and leaves as little to chance as possible. The good procrastinator will leave everything to the last minute if she knows that the job can be done in less.
To put this in our story, the hare should have known how fast it could get to the finish line on a bad day. Then she could have analysed the pace of the tortoise and figured out how long it would take him to get to the finish line. With that knowledge, she could figure out how long she could delay her sprint for. She could also decide whether or not she would sleep closer to the start, the finish, or in intervals between the two.
In summation, procrastination is like project management with the project manager as the sole human resource.