As I sat there over Thanksgiving weekend thinking about the million things I should be doing instead of watching the Buffy marathon, I realized that there was a way I could at least get something out of my procrastination. I could write an essay about it. Not my usual self-castigating discussion of procrastination and the horrors thereof. No mention, this time, of how much I really should have gotten work done and didnt, and now have to stay up late to really get everything done. No, not this time.
This time, I want to explain why
procrastination is a good thing.
Admittedly, that seems a little
counterintuitive. Sure, most of us procrastinate, but were also not generally
proud of that fact. Not that we dont keep doing it and not that
we dont relish it while were doing it. But the very definition of
the word is that were not doing what we should be doing.
And Im here to say that thats
not necessarily a bad thing.
Part of the importance of procrastination,
and of reveling in it, is that were so trained to think in terms of productivity.
We have a need to be useful not just well-oiled cogs in a machine, mind
you, but personally productive. Max
Weber talks about this in his seminal book The
Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Salvation through works.
We work because we believe we must.
And theres nothing wrong with
calling that into question.
Honestly, I dont know what
Id do if I wasnt working. I love what I do, most of the time anyway.
But sometimes, my brain goes on overload from the interminability of academia.
All I want to do is watch re-runs of Buffy or play computer
games, or something equally useless. Back when I was doing secretarial work,
work that I didnt love, procrastination was escape from the boredom of
inputting entries into the database of customers who wanted catalogs, because
even though it had to get done, I wouldve rather written a letter to a
I bet she'd be happier if she learned to enjoy procrastination
Its interesting that, when
its work I love, my procrastination is doing useless things,
but when I dont love my work, my procrastination is the one thing Id
call worthwhile after all, years later, the letter to the friend made
more of a difference to me than the database ever did. I cant just work
all the time at one kind of task whether I think its worthwhile
or worthless. I need the useless things in my life as much as the useful ones
and its worth thinking about, too, that the words we usually use
to talk about this all relate to the production of value worthwhile;
worthless; useful; valuable; productive all of which brings us right
back to the Spirit of Capitalism. Things and people are defined by their usefulness
and value, and were so deeply enmeshed in our particular economic system
that we dont notice how much our thinking is linked to economic production
And to be honest, Im having trouble writing this without coming back to the idea that procrastination is good because its useful. Its hard to get away from our market-linked thinking, from the idea that what I must do as a person is produce value of some kind that I am worthwhile only if I am worth something. Because even as I was engaging in useless activities of procrastination, I was thinking about how I could transform them into an essay, turn them useful.
So maybe its more about transforming
what use and value mean, how we evaluate what is worthwhile. Im writing
this essay because I like to write, and maybe a few people will read it; it
doesnt seem useful in an absolute sense, but its important to me,
because I enjoy it. And all our conceptions of usefulness and value tend to
leave so little room for having fun the famed pursuit of happiness
that maybe the value of procrastination lies in the attempt to bring enjoyment
and pleasure back into our idea of what is worthwhile.
And heck procrastination is what Im doing right now, after all.
December 6, 2001
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