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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Structured Procrastination

I have been intending to write this blog for months. Why am I finally doing it? Because I finally found some uncommitted time? Wrong. I have admin to do, a new website to design, Christmas cards to draw out, and several screaming deadlines to hit.

I am working on this blog as a way of not doing all of those things. This is the essence of what I call structured procrastination, an amazing strategy I have discovered that converts procrastinators into effective human beings, respected and admired for all that they can accomplish and the good use they make of time.

All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him to do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.

Structured procrastination means shaping the structure of the tasks one has to do in a way that exploits this fact. The list of tasks one has in mind will be ordered by importance. Tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top. But there are also worthwhile tasks to perform lower down on the list. Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.

Procrastinators often follow exactly the wrong tack. They try to minimize their commitments, assuming that if they have only a few things to do, they will quit procrastinating and get them done. But this goes contrary to the basic nature of the procrastinator and destroys his most important source of motivation. The few tasks on his list will be by definition the most important, and the only way to avoid doing them will be to do nothing. This is a way to become a couch potato, not an effective human being.

At this point you may be asking, "How about the important tasks at the top of the list, that one never does?" Admittedly, there is a potential problem here.

The trick is to pick the right sorts of projects for the top of the list. The ideal sorts of things have two characteristics, First, they seem to have clear deadlines (but really don't). Second, they seem awfully important (but really aren't). Luckily, life abounds with such tasks.

The observant knight and Lady may feel at this point that structured procrastination requires a certain amount of self-deception, since one is in effect constantly perpetrating a pyramid scheme on oneself. Exactly. One needs to be able to recognize and commit oneself to tasks with inflated importance and unreal deadlines, while making oneself feel that they are important and urgent. This is not a problem, because virtually all procrastinators also have excellent self-deceptive skills. And what could be more noble than using one character flaw to offset the bad effects of another?

Now should I send this now, or go and look up on wikipedia the biography of the beautiful B-list actress I saw in a film the other night.

Sir Dayvd ( Okay okay I'll do it ) of Oxfordshire


  1. Exactly! Now you've let the world in on my little secret! This whole blog and Knights of Moleskine, Spirit and Ale was born out of structured procrastination. In fact, I've posted this for you and I'm writing this comment now because there is something more important to do, which is why I came down here to fire up the computer at this hour of the morning.

    In my world structured procrastination is more commonly known as the ability to "multi-task". I always get a lot done everyday to the amazement of my peers. What they don't see is how much is left on my to do list.

    The to do list is the "bucket list" of the living. Choosing a profession in the creative arts and world of marketing and advertising is a perfect fit for the structured procrastinating multi-tasker. What other profession gives you a plethora of projects with clear (but not really) deadlines, which seem awfully important (but really aren't)?

    Of course there is the ultimate defense..."I must be free to create without judgment." God I love this life! Now, what else is there for me not to do today?

    Sir Hook I'll Do It When I'm Damn Well Ready of Warrick

  2. Notes to self:

    Reorganize my to-do list -- long overdue.

    Write '08 New Year's Resolutions.

    Comment on Sir Dayvd's worthy blog...someday.

    Sir Bowie of Greenbriar

  3. I'm not a David (Davyd) but I am a procrastinator...killing time on here when I should be in the kitchen making batches of noodles for Thanksgiving...

    and the cat in the picture looks like our White Sox cat...wonder if she needs fresh water...

    okay okay off to the kitchen...

    Lady Suzanne of Greenbriar

  4. A well-written post. I agree with you about the need to stop procrastination. You can find more help at This website also has plenty of easy ways you can use to stop procrastination.