MAGNIFY Magazine | The art of procrastination
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The art of procrastination

It takes a lot of creativity to procrastinate effectively. When faced with the challenge of an imminent deadline or a demanding project, those skilled in the art of procrastination are expert problem-solvers. Procrastinators see each problem as an opportunity – an opportunity to do something else.

Like artists, people who procrastinate can appear to be doing nothing. Many look at them and think they just sit around having fun all the time. This is not true. People rarely procrastinate by doing nothing. They just do everything except what they are supposed to be doing: to do lists, the laundry, stalking their ex’s holiday photos, browsing the life and style section of news websites, tidying their room. Anything except what they should be doing right now.

So procrastinators and artists share a complex relationship with time and reality. They view both concepts as elastic, shaped by their own personal perceptions, rather than the ticking clock.

As a regular procrastinator, I frequently use such tactics to avoid facing reality. But when I am forced to turn back to my list of priorities, I inevitably end up choked with panic. There is still so much to do. A feeling of frustration creeps in and I begin to wonder why I bothered reading that article on ‘the 22 awkward moments you experience at least once a month.’ Why am I so easily distracted, so swayed by a quirky title or a mildly humorous meme? I find myself plagued with guilt, fear and self-loathing for my inability to focus on the task at hand.

Like artists, procrastinators torture themselves needlessly.

Surely there must be some way to escape from this vicious cycle? If procrastinating is an art, how can I master it? Although a lot of time was wasted in researching these tips, here’s a list of ideas on how to procrastinate effectively:

Choose your distraction. The most frustrating thing is accidental procrastination. For me, it normally happens like this: I log on to my computer, check my emails (without replying to any of them), open up Facebook, and scroll throughTtwitter. I ignore the news and flick through ten new tabs, skim-reading articles designed to hook gullible fools (15 Mind-blowing Facts that Will Change the Way You Look at The World etc.) Then, I realise an hour has evaporated and I am late for everything.  The best thing to do is to be deliberate about your distractions. Go and make a cup of tea. Go for a walk. Get on with some filing. At least do something useful with your wasted hours.

Find a scientific explanation for your distraction. I want to be a writer. At the start of the day, if I can’t will myself to start writing, I justify my procrastination by reading anything I can find. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at University of Toronto has suggested that reading fiction provides a simulated experience of reality. When you read novels, your brain responds as if you are actually experiencing the events for yourself.  What could be more efficient (and inspiring) than living multiple lives from the comfort of your own seat?

Reflect. Listen to what you actually want to do. If you realise you keep finding excuses to avoid starting work, consider why you are reluctant to embark upon that important report/essay/creative brief.  Is it because it is hideously dull? Or because you are intimidated by the task? Are you putting off applying for that job because you don’t really want to do it, or because you’re scared of getting rejected? At some point, you’ll have to be honest with yourself. Treat procrastination as an opportunity for self-reflection, and take time to work out what you really want.

Do less. A lot of procrastination comes from indecision. If you have too much to do, you can’t decide where to start and so often end up paralysed/on Facebook. Don’t say ‘yes’ if someone asks if you have time to help with some admin or extra research. For starters, they should do their own work. The only reason you are currently staring at images of luxurious Alpine retreats is because you are daunted by the mountain of work piling up on your desk.

Own your art. Recognise that effective procrastination is an art. Surprise people by getting loads of things done, even if they are the things at the bottom of your priority list. And don’t beat yourself up too much about it. Like the best artists, procrastinators need to find pleasure in their craft. Remember, ‘time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.’

Words by Yosola Olorunshola