Book Review: The Art of Procrastination

by wullersd



Last night I read The Art of Procrastination by Prof John Perry of Stanford and it has already helped me a great deal! Usually I would feel really bad about myself for writing this blog entry instead of working on the literature overview chapter of my PhD thesis. Now I know that I shouldn’t! I am a structured procrastinator!

Structured procrastination refers to being productive while putting off some actually more important or more pressing work. I, for example, was doing some reading for said chapter, when a pile of clothes caught my eye. So, I decided that it would be better for my concentration if I cleaned up a bit first. That was definitely on my todo list but way below finishing my PhD. After folding and hanging my shirts, pants and sweaters, I sat down again. The reading was still very boring and the next distraction dragged me away. I have to submit a CV for a conference next month where I am invited to participate in a panel discussion. It’s really important because you don’t want the crowd to think you’re the only unqualified talker. Also you can give yourself a firm pat on the back by writing all your accomplishments down. Obviously, this task was still too high on the todo list. Instead, I started thinking about how good this procrastination book was. Now I am really productive in writing this text. Procrastination just works!

Unfortunately, while using this task to not complete more meaningful ones, I will probably not meet my goal of a text that does right by Prof Perry. This also makes perfect sense because another important insight of John’s (I hope it’s okay calling him John, since in a way we’re in the same support group) is that procrastinators are often perfectionists. Not in the sense that their work is actually perfect but that they really want it to be perfect and don’t start doing it because they feel they’re not able to bring the necessary level of perfection right now – or ever for that matter. Then, of course, the clock or some other factor starts pressuring us (writing a PhD thesis) and we just do the task at hand because else we would experience a bitter and complete failure. So, we finally do what we could have done months ago and finish our job reasonably well. In case of this review, it only took my thesis advisor saying that he expected a really smooth literature overview for me to start working on my blog.

While reading his book, I thought John really gets me but then we sadly parted ways. His proposal for getting things done and not procrastinate is to write a todo list. A really detailed one. With items likes “Get up” – “Go to the bathroom” – “Don’t go back to bed!” – “Drink coffee” – “DON’T GO BACK TO BED!!” …this is very helpful, I guess, and also I have talked about my own todo list. My todo list is fictional, though. I’m just saying I have one, so people think I am very structured. If I was about to really write down a todo list I would immediately start doing something competely different – maybe even working on my dissertation, we will never know.

On the other hand, while I might be a more notorious procrastinator than John, it is always good to know one is not alone. So maybe you yourself enjoy reading this text even if you’ve read similar texts countless times. The same holds true for John Perry’s really witty and insightful book. That’s because it’s good to know you’re not alone out there – and because you actually have something better to do, my dear procrastinator. But don’t feel bad about yourself and try to enjoy life. That’s John’s final advice and there I’m with him again 100 percent.

John Perry, The Art of Procrastination, Workman Publishing, 96 pages.