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Slice of Life 24: In Defense of Procrastination

As we  start counting down to the end of this Slice of Life challenge, I’m officially at the point I think many of my fellow slicers are probably at about now—the what do I write about next? moment. But like yesterday, I’ve decided to get some inspiration from Austin Kleon’s The Steal Like an Artist Journal.

Today’s prompt:

My favorite ways to procrastinate:

  • Watching TV. There’s nothing like watching an episode or two of Michael and Dwight on The Office. And if I’m flipping through the channels and an episode of Law & Order: SVU is on, it’s all over. I’m hooked for at least the rest of the episode (unless there’s a marathon—which there almost always is!—then we’re talking hours). How to make this more productive? I could choose to watch something a little more useful. Watching more documentaries has been on my to-do list. Lately, I’ve also been handing over the remote to the boys and letting them choose. Before I know it, we’re blanketed on the sofa with a bowl of popcorn enjoying family movie night.
  • Social media. There is always something more interesting to read on Twitter or Facebook than whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. I’ve been trying to get better at avoiding reading things that aren’t worth my time, so to be a little more productive, I keep my notebook next to my computer and write down the ideas I want to keep. If I find myself not writing, I move on.
  • Long, warm showers. I do my best thinking in the shower. And it’s quiet in there. I wish I could take a notebook into the shower so I could write my ideas down, though. Someone once joked I should write on the shower door or tile using my kids’ old bath crayons. Maybe.

I know that procrastination is supposed to be a bad thing, but I don’t know. I have mixed feelings about procrastination. As a teacher, I have a professional duty to warn my students of the dangers of procrastination. “Space your work over time” and “Break down your work into more manageable pieces” are things I often find myself saying, especially to my 9th graders who are just starting high school.

Google “procrastination” and you’ll find more than 22 million search results, and I’d guess the majority of them are about how to avoid procrastination. It’s easy to see why. According to one estimate, procrastination apparently costs the US nearly 70 billion—billion!—dollars each year in lost productivity. And when you look at article titles like “8 Ways Procrastination Can Destroy Your Life” and “Procrastination is Literally Killing You”, it seems like there’s only one thing to do: stop procrastinating.

And true procrastinators will—just later.

I have always been a procrastinator. Always. I don’t procrastinate on all things, just enough to qualify as a serial offender. I envy the students I have who can do as I say and not as I do. But then again, students these days have so much work to do, maybe they just don’t have the time to procrastinate. I think you need a little bit of time to waste in order to procrastinate. But if your schedule is packed with academics, sports, clubs, and everything in between, there’s no time to procrastinate. It’s all go-go-go.

I once read somewhere that high-achievers were often the worst procrastinators. One of the reasons cited was the positive reinforcement effect. In my younger and more vulnerable years, I might have procrastinated on an assignment or two. Thankfully, I still finished the task, but more importantly, I still did well. Of course I can write this 10-page paper in a few hours, my college self would think,  After all, that’s what I did last time and I got a good grade. As long as my procrastination didn’t hurt me or my grades, I had no incentive to change my habits. It’s all very logical.

In fact, in many cases, I’d say procrastination actually helps. Don Murray wrote that 85% of the writing process is pre-writing. Procrastination is my pre-writing—or at least a big part of it.  I need time to let ideas incubate, to turn ideas over in my head, to weigh and consider where the ideas might go. What looks like procrastination on the outside is really my way of wondering, pondering.

In his TED talk, “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers,” Adam Grant points out that “Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps.” He continues, “Procrastinating is a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue for creativity.” 

Maybe this is why I also keep my lesson planning flexible and open. I used to envy other teachers who had their calendars planned out weeks, if not months in advance. I tried keeping a calendar when I first started teaching, but in addition to never being able to keep up with it (I’m also an over-planner, just like I’m an over-writer), I didn’t like the way the calendar restricted me. I like having the flexibility to try something new, even if it’s at the last minute. Some of my best ideas come to me when I’m in the shower or driving to work. I’ll think about a blog post I recently read, a conversation over Twitter, an exchange with a student the day before—and an idea begins to take shape.

It isn’t easy, though, and procrastinating probably causes more stress than necessary. Things left to the last minute are also sometimes hastily thrown together; that last-minute idea may be great, but the execution might fall a little short. It’s messy. But then again, most of teaching—and writing— is. Maybe that’s what makes procrastinators who they are—they don’t mind getting a little messy sometimes.

 


slice of lifeThis post is part of the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, who have created a space for writers and teachers of writers to come together. To learn more about this challenge, click here.

3 Comments

  1. Oh my – I’m a procrastinator! Hopefully that means I’m a high achiever.;-) I love Austin Kleon books! Great choice for writing inspiration!

    Like

  2. One of my students is currently writing an argument in defense of messiness and procrastination as part of our editorial writing unit. She would love this!

    Like

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