Taking Your Time
Josh Levin and Seth Stevenson finally get around to answering readers' questions on procrastination.
Carson, Calif.: I was going to ask you a question, but I will wait until tomorrow.
Josh Levin: Sure, I'll be here. (Not really.)
Kailua, Hawaii: Thank you for this piece—I read it immediately after just meeting a story deadline for a piece I had two weeks to work on. But my question for you is, what do you think Gilmore Girls' Paris Geller would say about procrastination?
Seth Stevenson: Paris was not a procrastinator, as I remember. She was one of those go-getters who leave the rest of us in her dust. I think she'd just find us weak and unserious—she'd casually insult us and move on.
Baltimore: I read the articles on procrastination, just so I could put off working in my yard! I'm either seriously committed or should seriously be committed. Is there help for people like me?
Josh Levin: You should check out Emily Yoffe's story on Procrastinators Anonymous. I am sad to report, though, that her attempt to get help didn't quite pay off in the end ...
Seth Stevenson: You could try doing your yardwork as a way to put off something else that's more important and pressing.
washingtonpost.com: I'm joining Procrastinators Anonymous—can I get past step one?(Slate, May 13)
Los Angeles: Hey, I enjoyed the article. I was hoping it would give me something insightful without being too challenging to say to my mom. Ever since my parents got a laptop, my dad sits in front of the TV with the laptop and plays solitaire for hours at a time, and not one visit goes by without my mom complaining to me about it (to be honest, she complains about it more than once a day every time we see them). I share genes with him, and I know he's never going to stop it because I do it most of the time too—it just doesn't drive my husband crazy with the same intensity that it propels my mom. Can I tell her it's actually helping his brain stay sharp or something? What do you think?
Josh Levin: I talked to some computer solitaire pioneers while I was reporting to my story, and they all emphasized that they believe that the game is a great stress reliever and mind clearer ... not just a mindless time waster. But you would expect them to say that. You could tell your mom that he's learning about shapes and colors and counting, but then again he's probably older than 5, so that's not a huge accomplishment.
At least he's not addicted to this game, which I am currently. You really shouldn't click on that link. But if you do, can you beat my high score of 210?
Shout out: To the Tetris poster. I'm with you, dude. There is no better procrastination tool than Tetris, not least because you can multitask while playing. Which leads me to this: I find that multitasking and procrastinating are Janus-like phenomenae. We multitask because no one job is interesting enough to hold our entire attention. Consequently, nothing much gets done. You do get a wicked case of wrist-ache, though, from playing Tetris during entire two-hour conference calls. Discuss.
Josh Levin: I played a TON of Tetris back when I had a free version of the game on my cell phone. But then I got a new phone that has no games, so no more Tetris.
I confess to playing Solitaire and other games while on the phone. Tip: Make sure you click quietly. But don't worry about that too much. The other person is probably playing Solitaire too.
Seth Stevenson: I'm not playing Solitaire during this chat. As far as you know.
Washington: How do you determine what is mere procrastination and what is truly a useful alternative activity that may not be one's top priority, but is a priority nonetheless (like reading a live chat on procrastination to search for ways to cut back on procrastination in the future)? Or is it merely a matter of clearly defining a hierarchy of priorities, and if reading this live chat isn't at the head of the list today, I shouldn't read it to get the answer to my question? Or is there a completely different way of approaching this?
Seth Stevenson: If it's a truly useful alternative activity then I don't want to know about it. I'm procrastinating, man, not accomplishing useful things. Stop trying to harsh my mellow.
Josh Levin: I'd say that if you're supposed to be running a nuclear reactor or putting out a fire right now, then maybe this live chat shouldn't be up on your screen right now. If you're a lawyer, anything's fair game.
Mesa, Ariz.: So am I just lazy, or is it ADHD? When I am at work (Apple), I crank. At school (ASU), I suck. Sixty milligrams a day of Adderall can't get me going if I am not interested. Nothing can stop me if I am in the zone. What gives? Your thoughts please.
Seth Stevenson: I would guess that you are lazy and have ADHD. It's a lethal combination. Seriously, it sounds like you have a very common affliction: You get bored working on things you're not interested in. I would consider scaling back the Adderall and putting more effort into making sure the bulk of your time can be devoted to projects that excite you.
Josh Levin is an associate editor at Slate. Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor.