Teaching Tuesdays: Procrastination

timepieces

… yeah, I know it’s Friday. Time is an artificial construct. Over yourself yet?

My dear and timeless friend the Oxford English Dictionary defines “procrastinate” as

To postpone till another day; to put from day to day; to defer, delay

Much as this is a contemporary topic, with many time management tip websites – 43 FolderslifehackerGetting Things Done et al – the problem is nothing new. Note this from 1742:

“Procrastination is the thief of time;
Year after year it steals, till all are fled.”
– Edward Young, “The Complaint, or Night-Thoughts on Life, Death and Immortality”

To put something off, there needs to be a period to move it from and one to move it to. To quantify the guilt, humans invented time measurement.

OK, not really. Factors ranged from agrarian to astronomical:

The early inventions were made to divide the day or the night into different periods in order to regulate work or ritual, so the lengths of the time periods varied greatly from place to place and from one culture to another. [NRICH, “A Brief History of Time Measurement”]

I was one of those college students who would calculate how long a paper would take down to the hour, so I would rationalize that as long as I started by 3:30 a.m., for example, I had plenty of time. Being naturally deadline-oriented, it probably is not a shock I ended up in journalism. “When do you need this?” is still one of my critical questions, hence my fondness for this Spanish proverb …

“Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.” [“The Perils of Procrastination – 11 Ways to Put an End to Putting it Off”]

A few of my professors knew I had this predilection and called me on it. It’s painfully common in academia, and here’s how one post described the faculty-student divide:

To simplify (legendary Stanford social psychologist Philip) Zimbardo’s elegant theory, some individuals are primarily present-oriented. These individuals focus on immediate pleasure and gratification. They are more likely to be aggressive, less likely to wear a watch, and more likely to gamble or seek other short-term gratifications. They also study less, and have less impulse control. Other people are future oriented, and ask themselves what the cost-benefit of certain future actions will be, and they make their choices based on those calculations. Future oriented people are less aggressive, more likely to use a planner, wear a watch, and floss their teeth. They have better impulse control, and study more. [Teach Philosophy 101, “Different Time Perspectives”]

Not that these inclinations end with graduation. They linger, or drag, into the work force, into volunteer posts (you do volunteer, right?), into the way we keep our homes.

A Psychology Today article posits there are two types of procrastinators, active and passive. I swing both ways:

If you’re an active procrastinator, you choose to put things off because you like the adrenaline rush that comes with getting things done right at the wire. You enjoy the challenge and you don’t really want to change. If you identify more with the passive procrastinator, however, you already know how procrastination interferes with your life – the missed opportunities, the damaged relationships, and the constant stress, anxiety, and guilt. [“Can Procrastination Ever Be a Good Thing?”]

As with all things time-related, then, it’s a matter of perspective. On that note, I close with three quotes about time:

“When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.”
– Albert Einstein, in the abstract from a paper for the Journal of Exothermic Science and Technology

“What a friend we have in time.
Gives us children, makes us wine.
Tells us what to take or leave behind.”

– John Denver, “Friends With You”

“But if you could heal a broken heart,
wouldn’t time be out to charm you?”

– Guns N’ Roses, “November Rain”

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