Procrastination. That dirty word, most often used to describe putting off some unpleasant but necessary but cosmically unimportant activity, like homework or doing the dishes.
Procrastinating in this domain is doing some other activity – watching one more episode of this, playing one more level of that – in the place of the thing that needs doing, until you eventually do the thing you needs doing.
The good kind of procrastination
We can sum this up as follows:
“Putting off busy-work until later.”
We all do it. All the time. And it’s really not a big deal. It can even be a good thing.
Because I felt I had better things to do with my time – like play guitar and read – I used to generally leave all my homework until the night before. Not only did my grades not suffer from this approach, but I got my work done much quicker than whenever I took a more leisurely approach.
Procrastination became almost a productivity hack for me – every minute of avoiding the work was like coiling a spring, so that when I finally sat down to do it, the spring uncoiled with great force. I attacked the work with energy and attention that I couldn’t normally find, because I didn’t give a shit about the work.
So long as you eventually get round to whatever you need to get round to, there’s no need to see this kind of procrastination as the kind of productivity cancer it’s often made out to be.
It’s not worth fearing, especially because there’s another form of procrastination – one with a much more serious threat.
The bad kind of procrastination
We can sum this type up as:
“Putting off doing the right thing until tomorrow.”
Unlike the first kind of procrastination, this one can wreak an incredible amount of damage and destruction. What makes it so dangerous?
It’s simple – it presents a harmless front.
Tomorrow feels very close – it seems very reasonable to put something off until tomorrow, whatever it is. It doesn’t feel like you’re saying “I’m not going to do this.” It feels like “I am going to do this. Just not yet.”
And that’s where it gets you.
Because tomorrow never comes. There is only the present moment. Tomorrow never becomes today – it’s eternally “tomorrow.” It’s a moving target. A mirage. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
If you feel like you don’t quite have it in you to do the right thing today, what makes you think tomorrow is going to be any different?
It’s a muscle
Doing the right thing is a muscle. Which means that with use it will grow, and with neglect it will shrink – either a virtuous cycle, or a vicious cycle.
In every moment, you are presented with a wonderfully binary choice – do the right thing, or don’t do the right thing. Putting it off until tomorrow might feel like it’s somewhere neutral, somewhere in-between. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s really just a tarted up way of choosing “don’t do the right thing.”
Every time you choose to do the right thing, the muscle grows. Every time you choose “don’t” – whether you realise that’s what you’re doing or not – it shrinks. It’s as simple as that.
Don’t confuse putting off busywork with putting off doing the right thing. One is of little to no consequence. One is as important as life or death.