All Hail Procrastination!

Proposal for how we can reframe procrastination: rather than treating procrastination as a disease, wailing about how rushed we were for our last project because of procrastination, and how much we’ve tried to get rid of our habit of procrastination to no avail, and deriving some morbid pleasure from that show of our failings, perhaps we can use procrastination as a criterion for decision making, a heuristic to separate signal from noise.

Because we are finite—we can only do so many things out of the time we have—we have the problem of choosing an optimal course of action out of the infinite array of possibilities open to us. This problem can be framed as the necessity to separate signal from noise in communication, signal being that which is worth attending to, and noise, that which should be ignored. It is a result of technological innovations that the noise to signal ratio has risen higher and higher, with more things to do, and a lower portion of them being really valuable for us. Procrastination is simply our body’s natural filtering mechanism to distinguish signal to noise. Often, that which we dread to do and procrastinate on, is exactly that which we should not do (writing a report, finishing a horribly uninteresting essay, reading a badly written, jargon-filled book, etc.).To triumph over procrastination, we need not bypass our instinct, but listen to it, intently, to see whether it has anything to offer us. Thus, one of the best advices I’ve heard on making to-do lists: If something has been on your to-do list for 2 weeks, delete it, because it is probably not important—filtering through procrastination.

There is, of course, a more vicious procrastination, of the type where we fail to sacrifice for the future, dragged into the present. To this, we should still not demonize procrastination, rather, we should listen to our procrastinating self, and see what he/she needs, wants, desires—for every procrastination is a cry for help. Often, if we self-scrutinize, we will find that procrastination is merely a symptom, not the cause, which can vary from choosing the wrong vocation, subject of study, or not having made a long-term plan which details our dreams and aspirations. It is through this listening, this loving attention to the procrastinating self that we often prematurely push away, that we come to demarcate signal from noise, and start attending to that which matters most during our finite sojourn.

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