A Philosophy of Procrastination

We all would like to be productive, to finish our work comfortably within deadlines, and free ourselves up to pursue the goals we have beyond whatever it is we have to do everyday. Our problem is that we allow rein to doubt, so that we feel justified in putting things off presently because we will be better prepared in the future. However, when the time comes we make the same argument and do so indefinitely, until we cannot possibly delay any longer. At that point we have recourse to the excuse that if the result is not perfect it was because we did not try that hard and, while this is clearly our fault, it allows us to think that if we had done more we would have approximated that standard better.

Nevertheless, our preoccupation with perfectionism conceals a hidden aspect that guides procrastination. What we are really after is freedom from judgement. The things we procrastinate around generally have criteria by which they can be judged. We don’t procrastinate around walking or listening to music because we aren’t judged on those activities. The prospect of being judged (negatively) causes us anxiety that we would like to be free of but, because no work we do that is imperfect will be spared from it, we aspire to an illusory perfection that would put us beyond scrutiny. That is why, for example, we put off writing essays; there is a standard by which we are judged and the only way to escape it is through perfect work.

However, this strains us because, try though we might, nothing we ever do will be perfect. How well we perform is ultimately a matter of indifference if it is perfection we are after, because improvements can invariably be made. The solution to procrastination may then lie in accepting that we are going to be judged and being comfortable with this so that we can begin the work as earnestly as we can. If people are going to say something about what you do, invite them to it, but don’t for a second think twice about doing it for fear of judgement. The only way to avoid judgement is to do nothing, say nothing and be nothing; in a word, to cease existing.

Recognising this, that procrastination achieves its aim only by doing the impossible, by attaining perfection or obscuring us from judgement, see the doubt for what it is. In that context it is perfectly rational – we can’t ensure those things. The problem is that the aims set by perfectionism are absurd. The only way past procrastination is then to reassess our goals. If we are to achieve our potentials and live our lives to fulfillment we have to give up aspiring to perfection, which is nothing less than a neurosis. Even more simply if we are struggling to start it is helpful to realise that something is always better than the nothing we would end up doing.