Letter to a young procrastinator.

A brief history of wasting time.
May 16 2008 4:46 PM

Letter to a Young Procrastinator

Some last-minute advice from a veteran slacker.

Read more from Slate's  special issue  on procrastination.

Seth Stevenson chatted online with readers about this article. Read the transcript.

(Continued from Page 1)

No. You couldn't. That kid will grow up to be a powerful politician or business leader. You won't.

And that's OK! Some of the kindest, most interesting people are pretty lazy, and not at all powerful. Take da Vinci: He was totally awesome, despite—as my extensive research suggests—being an easily distractible scattershot. His very strength was that he allowed his mind to wander where it pleased, instead of always locking into the task at hand. Sure, maybe you wouldn't want da Vinci as your air-traffic controller. But you'd definitely want to have a beer with him—am I right? And despite his problems knuckling down, the guy produced oodles of brilliant, imaginative work. Which is where my advice comes in.

Advertisement

Stop resisting and embrace your procrastination. Don't agonize in front of a blank computer screen. Don't sit around for hours—intending to start your work any moment now—only to find that in the end you've accomplished zilch, save for ruining your own day.

You could instead, for instance, work on a small, tangential aspect of the assignment. Some weird take on things—one that doesn't make you miserable. This may be of little direct application, but there's a chance it could also pay off, kick-starting a new line of thought or adding nuance to your final result.

Or, better, take a walk outside. Read a book for pleasure. Roll a spliff and share it with a friend.

You're going to procrastinate anyway, so you may as well enjoy the time you're stealing from your tasks. While that grind in your econ class is toiling, you're becoming a more relaxed, quirkier, less-programmed person. You nurture the creative sprouts that take root only in long hours of idleness. You're open to soulful experiences that lie only beyond the bounded worlds of work and study.

Of course, this is all dependent on there being a deadline waiting at the end of your walkabout. For true procrastinators, nothing gets done without a deadline. As we say in journalism: The deadline is your friend. And when that deadline looms too near to procrastinate any longer, you need to take care of business. Crank it out, baby.

Executed correctly, this method is in fact terrific practice for maintaining your cool in stressful work environments. Pressing deadline anxiety can be channeled into an extreme level of focus. If you can train yourself to complete your assignments under pressure, quickly and efficiently, you will always find yourself in demand.

OK, fully bumping up against the clock here. Time to get this thing to my editor. A few important questions remain, so I'll attempt to answer them in our waning moments together:

1) Could I have done a better job on this assignment if I'd started sooner? Quite possibly.

2) But would I really have used that additional time to my advantage, instead of just doing the crossword and watching Gilmore Girls reruns? Very doubtful.

3) Am I crazy good at Guitar Hero III? Oh my, yes. I'm money on the multibutton combos now, and I can even nail some of the faster solos. You should come over and play some time. Maybe bring that spliff.

Your shiftless amigo,
Seth

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Yes, Black Families Tend to Spank More. That Doesn’t Mean It’s Good for Black Kids.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

Politics

The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems

Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Iran and the U.S. Are Allies Against ISIS but Aren’t Ready to Admit It Yet

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 16 2014 5:47 PM Tale of Two Fergusons We knew blacks and whites saw Michael Brown’s killing differently. A new poll shows the gulf that divides them is greater than anyone guessed.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 5:07 PM One Comedy Group Has the Perfect Idea for Ken Burns’ Next Project
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 1:48 PM Why We Need a Federal Robotics Commission
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.