Chapter 3 – Musings on Procrastination
It’s actually weird that we lump so many different experiences together and call them all procrastination. I find the standard anti-procrastination techniques frustrating because they assume that all problems can be similarly approached. Obviously, the task or problem that we can’t approach right now IS NOT a standard problem. If it was, we would just hack away at it. There’s something weird about our current problem.
All of our tasks/problems are unsolvable puzzles that we think are just hard puzzles. For example, “Find a way to spend 1 hour, given that you need to A.) watch internet videos for 1 hour and B.) write your essay for 1 hour.” You want to do both tasks, so you procrastinate… but the answer instead is to give up and admit that the puzzle is unsolvable! You need problems you can solve. All books on procrastination are ultimately unsatisfying because they don’t solve your particular problem, and it seems like they should… The really bad ones actually CLAIM that they will solve your problem with their techniques (and in minutes, too!)
Earlier I suggested that you embrace the unknown and be humble about what you don’t know about your problems. I think even more than that, you should really distrust COMPLETELY how you’re even going about your problem. Stop assuming that you are a logical being. You are a dumb animal. You are not an INHERENTLY logical being. You may STRIVE to be a logical being, and you can only become that by reflecting on your current thinking and correcting it when it’s obviously wrong.
Are you able to give good reasons for every choice you made today? Did you make your choice by first considering all the possible choices, then weigh the pros and cons of each, predict all the possible outcomes and secondary outcomes from each choice branch of choices? You didn’t. You made a cup of coffee today because you made a cup of coffee yesterday and it was good, and you like good things, and you have a memory which captured that good feeling. Give yourself a break if you’re having trouble on a problem. You’re dumber than you think and the way you’re thinking about it probably isn’t perfectly logical. It’s filtered by you, the animal.
Given that you are an animal, I need to come to terms with this: you may be reading this with ZERO intention of quelling your procrastination. I say that because that’s how I read these books. I read them on a procrastination bender. So, what to do if you’re already committed to procrastinating all night? Let’s imagine you’ve just chugged two red bulls, it’s 10PM, you planned on studying all night, but even now, you know that won’t happen. In that case, I would say – make tonight all about reading procrastination books. This one is short, but there are a ton of longer ones. Make tonight about getting an edge in this domain. Sure, your colleagues will be better prepared for the quiz or final, but they won’t have the more valuable insights into the inner workings of procrastination. You are a human who reflects on the nature of different mental states. They are machines, memorizing what they’ve been told… to what end?!
Don’t come to these books as a patient seeking a cure. Come to these books as a scholar – become the most eminent expert on procrastination. A half completed statue of you will one day be erected in your honor. You will teach classes at the local community college on procrastination. Weary students will come to you asking for advice, and you’ll have THE CANNON of procrastination wisdom ready to dish out. You’ll hold a nuanced view of this topic. You’ll have the ability to judge the arguments from the anti-procrastination crowd, the pro-procrastination crowd, AND whatever weirdo I am for writing this book. And honestly, if you become a procrastination expert tonight, I would say that’s a way better story to tell later than the time you “buckled down and studied for an Econ final” or whatever.
One word of caution as you read these books: don’t think of your mind as something outside yourself. Don’t say “Oh it’s my dumb brain that can’t focus” or “I can’t get MYSELF to do this.” So many authors describe the experience this way, and I can’t help but notice how crazy it sounds. You are one self! Not to sound all crazy Buddhist, but stop projecting the procrastinator part of yourself as something external, other! Own the procrastinator! Own the non-procrastinator. You are the all things! (Now I’ve gotten carried away…)