Taking Your Time
Josh Levin and Seth Stevenson finally get around to answering readers' questions on procrastination.
New York: In your collection of procrastination rituals, "Lindsey" the "Cheerleader (NFL)" says she procrastinates on tanning, but she goes on to explain that her practice schedule effectively prevents her from tanning ahead of time. I always assumed procrastination implies that you forgo viable opportunities to get work done earlier. When does Lindsey think a non-procrastinating NFL cheerleader would tan?
washingtonpost.com: Procrasti-Nation: Workers of the world, slack off!(Slate, May 15)
Josh Levin: I think this question came from my friend Chris. I hope other people don't mind that I'm using this chat to catch up on my personal correspondence. It's an effective way to save time.
So, Chris, on to your question. Lindsey's tanning schedule is something we've been puzzling over in the Slate offices for some time now. We have several of our best people working through this, and we're planning to roll out an aggressive eight-part plan next week. Let me just tell you that this would be a lot easier to solve if the NFL put all of its games on Monday night.
Los Angeles: I submitted a lengthy post in Slate explaining how Solitaire could be used to understand life itself, and I didn't even get a damn check mark. What does a guy gotta do to get a little love around here?
Josh Levin: Are you Utek1? That was a good post ... meant to reply and didn't get around to it yet. You wrote: "Played Vegas-style, Solitaire is a form of gambling in which no money is lost, conferring the lessons of risk and reward without blowing one's life savings in the process."
I can speak to that, considering that I am down $84 in Vegas Solitaire. Planning a huge comeback in the second half of this chat.
washingtonpost.com: The Fray: On the profundity of Solitaire(Slate, May)
Los Angeles: I think you'll admit sometimes the lag can be seasonal. Someone who's quite lazy in the spring and summer can be far more focused in the fall and winter months. For some, there may even be life seasons—times when you're just so "I'm done being cluttery!" or "I'm tired of the same routine at work everyday!" that it turns off your inner procrastinator and turns on your inner justice fighter—for yourself if no one else. Just some food for thought, boys.
Josh Levin: Maybe your seasonal procrastination has to do with the TV schedule. Summer rerun season = more productive. Fall and spring, when primetime's stars come out to shine = not so much.
Seth Stevenson: Since the advent of the DVR I've lost all track of seasons.
Catonsville, Md.: Is there such a thing as Adult Onset Procrastination? In school I was Paris Gellar—in charge of everything, met deadlines with time to spare, served on every committee, got straight As and had time leftover for varsity sports. Then a guy I was dating challenged me to "blow off one thing a day." He thought I needed to lighten up. I had been given an assignment, so of course I did it ... and discovered that I was good at blowing things off ... and that it was fun ... and all the stuff that really needed to get done somehow got done anyway. Now here I am, 18 years later, and a veteran procrastinator. Oh, and married to the guy who set this challenge for me. Our house is a mess. I'm just saying that procrastination isn't necessarily an inborn trait. Even the most annoyingly driven person can learn this important life skill.
Seth Stevenson: Congratulations on joining the many, the not especially proud, the procrastinators. It sounds like it all worked out in the end, and I'd bet you're a much happier person this way. After all, if you weren't a time-waster would you be here enjoying this fabulous chat right now? Think about it!
Josh Levin: Agree with Seth ... this chat has been fabulous. We are enriching people's lives. Just think how much happier you are, chat-reading people, than the folks in the adjacent cubicles, updating their spreadsheets and whatever else they do.
Vancouver, B.C.: Is the best method of beating procrastination through practice, as opposed to sheer will power?
Seth Stevenson: For a true procrastinator, the practicing itself would require immense willpower, wouldn't it? I'm telling you: Deadlines with consequences are the only answer.
Josh Levin: Bribes also work. Washingtonpost.com's able producers, knowing how unreliable I am, told me that if I arrived promptly at 1 pm they would buy me a pony. And let me tell you, the pony is beautiful.
permutations: Re: Procrastinators Anonymous meetings—you mentioned that the phone meeting isn't happening anymore. That's true, but there's a weekly online meeting on Sundays that is happening. I guess that front page notice needs updating.
Seth Stevenson: I'm sure they'll get around to it at some point ...
Iowa City, Iowa: Have you found this site? The only fruitful approach to dealing with procrastination is to embrace it and find a way to work with it, not against it. Those who try to "reform" us just don't get it. As a committed procrastinator I have learned that the only way to proceed is to use it to my advantage, as Seth Stevenson suggests in his letter. This site, "Structured Procrastination," has great ideas for how to use this problem in a positive, hopefully productive way. I'm a total believer.
Josh Levin: Yes, I think I ran across it at some point and didn't read it. Just skimmed through. I'm intrigued by this part: "The observant reader may feel at this point that structured procrastination requires a certain amount of self-deception, since one is in effect constantly perpetrating a pyramid scheme on oneself. Exactly."
Sounds like my kind of guy, although I hope that site is not just some front for Amway.
Josh Levin is an associate editor at Slate. Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor.