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How to procrastinate like an expert

Eu nunca precisei de guias para a caminhada épica que me transformou em um mestre na arte da procrastinação… Mas eis aí um guiazinho breve e bem bom… (O próprio Guardian publicou dias antes o também muito bom Put off procrastinating… forever! Tips on how to be more productive

Over the Christmas break, have you felt bad about leaving all the things you usually do? Work emails unanswered, books unwritten, blogs unblogged and That Thing Your Boss Wants hiding somewhere under the TV schedule? Procrastination and being organised is a big problem for many of us, with a host of articles, books and blogs giving us the reassurance we seek – that you’re not alone. The excellent Graham Allcott even has some top productivity tips in the lifestyle section of this very site (his book is very good, and as nobody else I can think of is releasing a book soon … nope, nobody at all … I recommend it).

But come on, be honest. Don’t those people who seem to have everything seem really … annoying? Do people who seem to achieve everything they set their minds to get you down? Screw them. Smug gits. Make a resolution this year to give less of a damn, and learn to procrastinate like a pro. To guide you on your way to a 2016 of “meh”, here are my top tips:

1) Start small and work up. Let me be your inspiration. I’ve done some great procrastination in my time – including changing careers after being made redundant from my job of 17 years and moving 400 miles to another country for no particular reason – my piéce de resistance and not to be attempted by novices. It takes a great deal of practice and dedication to procrastinate at that level.

2) For those who are proficient at binge watching box sets (entry level), I recommend developing your skills by joining a cult sci-fi fandom, becoming involved in a gamer’s forum, or getting a pet. Be warned though, that all of these require some level of commitment. Fandoms and forums require the kind of dedication that sees you defending your favourite character in a flame war at 2am when you have work in the morning, and pets require feeding and exercise. However, the attention pets require is a good form of procrastination in itself, especially when they sit on your laptop keyboard and you have to stop to take a ‘cute’ picture for Instagram.

3) My absolute favourite way to procrastinate is by reading productivity blogs and devising systems of lists. There are many excellent books and blogs on how to be productive, all of which provide an excellent way to procrastinate by reading them without doing anything they recommend. A second good way is to browse for productivity apps and software, which allow you 15 different ways of writing a shopping list or remembering your child’s hockey match. Done correctly, this can waste as much time as watching the 15th repeat of a Bill Murray comedy from the early 1990’s

4) Be a perfectionist. My own personal reason for procrastination is a frankly ridiculous level of perfectionism. I will perfect my system of list making rather than do anything actually on the lists. I will write – just as long as I find the perfect pen and notebooks for my beautiful long hand journal, entirely forgetting that I have a cupboard full already as I actually write all my stuff on screens nowadays. Following on from this …

5) Aquire imposter syndrome – now this might seem a bit odd coming straight after perfectionism, but trust me: the joy of true perfectionism is knowing that you will never be good enough to belong anywhere. That fear of being found out is the friend of the top level procrastinator, because you’re afraid of completing anything that your coworkers may be able to judge you on. I’m in an especially good position to do this after starting a degree in my early 40s, having worked a minimum wage unskilled job for two decades. But don’t be intimidated by my commitment – all my friends in academia assure me that imposter syndrome is easy to aquire even for those going through the more traditional routes. That feeling that you’re not worthy to chat with someone at a conference or science festival, or write a blog post about a new paper or book from an author you admire, needs to be cultivated. It will come naturally soon enough.

6) Learn from the experts. For example, I humbly point to myself as someone who has allowed a year to pass between Guardian posts. In turn, writing this piece has helped me procrastinate from completing an assignment describing the sex lives of liver flukes, a CV, a Master’s degree application and an application for funding for a PhD studentship – all due for submission in the next ten days. I realise that for most of you, this level of expertise will be intimidating, but remember – I’ve had about 30 years of practice. It CAN be done. All you need is dedication.

7) Of course there are lots of things you can do that will be a disaster for procrastination, and in no way should you attempt ANY of the following if you want to commit to a life of “doing it later”. For instance, never try and prioritise or decide what’s really important to you. Treat the email from the old schoolfriend you hate and the references section you have to complete with equal attention. Further, check your email constantly and deal with each new inbox message as it comes. Always answer phone calls, and if someone sends you an interesting article read it straight away.

8) Indeed, never forget that the internet is your best friend. Look for pictures of your friends on Facebook, google pictures of whale penises, and check at least every 3 minutes to see if someone has “liked” a post you made on Twitter. The internet is the greatest innovation of the last 20 years for Our Kind, and the True Procrastinator will seize the opportunity with both hands (or at least one hand, while the other is diving into a family sized bag of crisps).

9) To summarise, I’m going to write my commitments for 2016 here. Take a quiet moment, find a paper and pencil somewhere and write down your own, if you like. Or not. You might not be able to lay your hands on a pencil right now. Up to you.

  • I will try to science well, which involves reading everything, even the stuff not remotely in my field. I vow not to prioritise or focus. There are only about 1.8m new papers in 28 000 journals a year, how hard can it be?
  • I will write. A bit. When I feel like it. Maybe.
  • I will read more books on how to stop procrastinating and how to get stuff done. There are still lots out there I’ve not read yet, and they might have different ideas to the 59 I’ve already got.
  • I will worry that I don’t fit into the traditional ideas of what academics should be. I will worry that I’m not “good enough” to fit in with those I admire, and always be climbing the ladder several rungs below them.
  • I will always read the comment sections and get into arguments below the line.

10) This was supposed to be a ten point post, but Pointless is on in a minute… see? Learn from the experts.

Tania Browne is on Twitter, @tania_browne

 

How to procrastinate like an expert | Tania Browne | Science | The Guardian.

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