Get Back to Work!


I’m sorry, my columns normally come out on a Saturday, things just kept coming up, I really did keep meaning to get around to it… Some unknown smart aleck once remarked, “Only Robinson Crusoe had everything done by Friday”. That line must be one of the most insightful drolls in human history. Some of our race’s greatest works of literature were written about procrastination, or at least they would have been if someone had ever gotten around to writing them.

William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet focused around a young procrastinator, often erroneously labeled a tragic hero, the young prince was really a mundane scholar, very average in his capabilities, the most banal perpetrator in the Shakespearean Canon. Aristotle once wrote that in good drama, we learn about the character through their actions and not their speech. Shakespeare turns the notion on its head and has Hamlet waffle on about spirituality and philosophy when he’s supposed to be avenging his father’s death.

Procrastination is a universal theme in human existence. A recent American study found that over 90% of students procrastinate and just over half have more serious issues with procrastination. The phenomenon is closely linked to akrasia, the ancient observation that people often act against their own better judgement. We’re all familiar with the situation when we know we should be investing our time constructively, but much to our dismay, we find ourselves staring at a blank wall and twiddling our thumbs.

The habit is easily put down to weakness of will but that explanation still leaves much to be desired. If I decided to write this column about procrastination but then changed my mind and thought I should write about Shetland ponies only to decide then on the upcoming European Union Stability Treaty, I would be showing a weakness of will. Now that I am writing about procrastination, even though I think I could write a much more fluid column about the Treaty, I am exemplifying a profound strength of will, although I am still acting akratically.

There’s a whole lexicon of technical terms relating to the topic; aboulia, ego depletion, apd, etcetera etcetera. The jargon stretches across the realms of psychology, physiology and psychiatry. Those with chronic cases of low motivation may suffer from depression or have an inferiority complex while others might just be in the wrong job or studying the wrong course in college.

I could go on and tell you about how Odysseus procrastinates for seven years in Homer’s epic poem, or Chinua Achebe’s beautiful description in his novel Things Fall Apart, of the farmers who procrastinate planting their yams to later discover it was a dry spring and think themselves geniuses, but you’re probably supposed to be doing something else right now, so please, put your procrastination off for another day.



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