Josh Levin and Seth Stevenson get around to answering readers' questions on procrastination.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
May 16 2008 4:46 PM

Taking Your Time

Josh Levin and Seth Stevenson finally get around to answering readers' questions on procrastination.

(Continued from Page 3)

Seth Stevenson: It sounds like setting up the structuredness (structuring the structuredness, if you will) would require me to get up off my badonk and then show some follow-through. I'm not into that.

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Utek1: That's me! Personally, I didn't consider it a win in solitaire until had a winning hand while playing with house money—which comes out to a score of at least $260. Which led me to another life lesson I learned in solitaire—lower your expectations. Now I'm happy just to finish in the black.

Josh Levin: I am down $153. Can someone float me a loan?

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Seth Stevenson: Sure, when I get around to it.

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Vienna, Va.: My wife loves her Mac, but one thing she really misses is "Microsoft Solitaire." I've looked high and low for a version for Mac that will satisfy, to no avail. Are you aware of a solitaire program for Mac that is identical to the Microsoft version? Huge extra points if that package also has a "Spider Solitaire" program that is identical. Thank you.

Josh Levin: I don't really know of one, sorry. Though there are a bunch of programs that let you run or emulate Windows on a Mac now. I'm sure the people who worked for years to build that software would be happy to know that it's being used so your wife can play computer cards.

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Ripley: "The chronic procrastinator knows he's presenting a negative image, but he'd rather be perceived negatively for lack of effort than for lack of ability," Yep, that's me. I've started writing several books and have finished one; it took six years and it's really not very good. I like to pretend that the problem is that I have too many ideas (and that's not a lie, I've got lots of thoughts swimming around in my head), but I know the real reason is that writing a book is a lot harder than it sounds.

Seth Stevenson: Yes, but to clarify: I'd say writing a good book is a lot harder than it sounds, while writing a really awful book probably isn't so hard. As for the image-presentation: I'm not sure a real procrastinator can be bothered to think about outside perception. It's more the realization that the output will be equally bad or good whether you start now or a week from now, so you may as well enjoy that week.

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WrenchDevil6: Solitaire is a bonified time-/mind-killer. I have uninstalled it from every computer to enter my home since 1999. Don't get me wrong, I still procrastinate, and my family still procrastinates or wastes time—but my time-waster is forums/blogs/news-sites/chess. I just cannot stand solitaire. And I agree ... Slate is the thinking person's solitaire.

Seth Stevenson: Can I be the thinking person's Minesweeper? Like there's a danger that if you don't read very carefully, my articles might blow up in your face? I'd prefer that.

Josh Levin: Ooh, I like that. I'm the thinking person's Sim City 2000. My articles will force you to pay taxes, to me. If you don't, there will be earthquakes.

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wookster: My recent spate of procrastinatory behavior (i.e., my decision to read Slate's entire procrastination issue) has made one thing painfully obvious to me: The Internet does not help in our procrastinatory habits. As I progressed through the articles, it was only natural that I gained a heightened sense of my own procastinatory habits. With that awareness, I realized that one of the most time-wasting things that I do is click on all the hyperlinked words that take you to related articles. Because the Internet allows you to view so many things at one time—and because I take advantage of this ability (I open up all of them)—I have a tendency to create a complex Web of pop-ups that prevents me from finishing the first article in what would be expected of a normal human being. I still remember the days when Slate did not link to other articles. Perhaps returning to that state —leaving links to the end of the article or on the sidebar—would help combat procrastinatory behavior.

Josh Levin: Obsessive link-following is definitely a way to go down the rabbit hole. You start off reading a Slate article, and you end up looking at the Wikipedia entry for Rutherford B. Hayes. It happens to me every day. But I don't think because some people have a problem, that means we should remove links from articles. That's like asking bars to stop serving alcohol because some percentage of the population has a drinking problem.

Seth Stevenson: This suggests an interesting idea: a prohibition to tame our unchecked indulgence in internet ephemera. I can't wait to visit a speakeasy where people huddle around Nipsey Russell's IMDB page.

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epapaluap: Is procrastination the same as distraction? I don't think so. As I'm reading these articles, it occurs to me that the surfing, coffee-drinking, cigarette-break behaviors that are on the rise ("chronic" procrastination from 6 percent to 25 percent?) are symptoms of a society that encourages distraction to sell things. Now we can buy books and no doubt courses to cure us from this chronic syndrome.

Not that distraction is not part of procrastination—I am a long-time procrastinator who welcomes/fears distraction for many of the reasons elucidated in these articles. However, procrastination has avoidance at its heart, whereas distraction is simply a flirtation with something that appears briefly in our peripheral vision ("hey look, something shiny!"). In other words, procrastination comes from within, whereas distraction is located externally. If that matters.

Josh Levin: Were you avoiding doing other work when you came up with this distinction? Which I think is probably accurate, by the way. If so, I think that's ironic, or something.

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Josh Levin: OK, time for me to get back to work. I finished down $259 in Vegas Solitaire. Seth, the check is in the mail.