The Art of Procrastination: A book review by Bob Morris

The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing
John Perry
Workman Publishing (2012)

“The early bird may get the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese.”

This review is from: The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing (Hardcover)
As I began to read this book, I was reminded of the Steven Wright observation that I selected for the title of this review. There are practical as well as philosophical advantages to avoiding hasty actions. That is one of several core principles of what John Perry characterizes as “structured procrastination,” first in his essay that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education (February 1996), “How to Procrastinate and Still Get Things Done,” and then in his recently published book, The Art of Procrastination (Workman 2012). As Perry explains,

“All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this negative trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastination does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things such as gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it…The procrastinator can be motivated to difficult, timely, and important tasks, however, 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. In your mind, or perhaps written down somewhere, you have a list if things you want to accomplish, ordered by importance. You might even call this your priority list. Tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top. But there are also worthwhile tasks to perform lower on the list. Doing those tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure the procrastinator be comes a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.”

Throughout his thought-provoking as well as lively and entertaining narrative, Perry addresses subjects and issues such as these:

o The “paradox” of procrastination
o The relationship between procrastination and perfectionism
o To-do lists: Do’s and Don’ts
o Computer use and procrastination
o The fringe benefits of procrastination (e.g. “the gift of guilt-free time”)
o Why procrastinators need not be annoying

In his book’s Appendix (“How to Kick the Habit – Read at Your own Risk”), Perry briefly discusses various sources that are available to those who cannot accept the responsibilities as well as the benefits of structured procrastination. He also includes words of caution: “You can waste a lot of time surfing from site, not doing any of the things you ought to be doing. You might want to try simply accepting yourself as a structured procrastinator for a while before plunging into a search for the perfect tool to help you drop the habit altogether.”

For those who are impatient to escape the almost unlimited opportunities that structured procrastination offers, Mark Twain offers this advice: “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

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