Lounge Loves | Don’t Read this Book Now! The Art of Procrastination

This delightful book encourages you to put things off, but smartly
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First Published: Thu, Jan 24 2013. 08 42 PM IST
Don’t Buy This Book Now!—The Art of Procrastination: By John Perry, Penguin/Viking, 92 pages, Rs299.
Don’t Buy This Book Now!—The Art of Procrastination: By John Perry, Penguin/Viking, 92 pages, Rs299.
Updated: Sat, Jan 26 2013. 04 13 PM IST
Just don’t do it
If you would rather be doing something else than reading this piece right now, then read on. Never mind if there are errands to be run, bills to be paid, plans to be made. In the words of John Perry, emeritus professor of philosophy at Stanford University, US, and author of this delightful book, you are a “structured procrastinator: a person who gets a lot done by not doing other things.”
That one sentence ought to fill shirkers—a tribe more ubiquitous than we seem to imagine—with a sense of purpose, if not pride. Procrastination is no joke. Great things have come of it. In his late 20s, William Wordsworth started writing a poem called The Prelude, which was meant to be an introduction to a fuller, more philosophical, work called The Recluse. Fifty years later, The Prelude had grown into a baggy monster, while The Recluse had faded into oblivion. Wordsworth’s friend, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was worse. He suffered from what Perry calls “parenthesis deficit disorder”—when a person “can’t finish one thought before starting another”.
For us, lesser mortals, procrastination may not lead to greatness, but it is entirely natural and excusable—except perhaps in matters of the heart (recall the poet, Andrew Marvell, chiding his “coy-mistress”: “Had we but world enough, and time,/This coyness lady were no crime”). Perry assures us that “the rational agent is the source of lots of needless unhappiness”. “We aren’t simply rational decision-making machines” but “bundles of desires, beliefs, urges, and whims”. And what is work anyway? Didn’t Andy Warhol say, “I suppose I have a really loose interpretation of ‘work’, because I think that just being alive is so much work at something you don’t always want to do. The machinery is always going. Even when you sleep.”
Perry argues that perfectionists are more prone to procrastination, being habitually terrified of failure; and “horizontal organizers”—people who like spreading out their work in front of them—are more productive. The purpose of this book, he says, is not to help people overcome procrastination but to help them live with it. Break down your to-do lists into micro units, he advises, so that the more you tick off, the higher your sense of accomplishment. A typical Perry list goes: “1. Turn off the alarm. 2. Don’t hit the snooze button. 3. Get out of bed. 4. Go to the bathroom. 5. Don’t get back in bed. 6. Go downstairs. 7. Make coffee.”
Now that you have read this far when you ought to have taken the garbage out, I hope you feel better about the world and yourself.
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First Published: Thu, Jan 24 2013. 08 42 PM IST
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