December 2017 Educate

Book Review: “The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to effective dawdling, lollygagging and postponing”

Written By: Sharon Brown, Prospect strategy analyst, University of Florida Office of Advancement

“Structured procrastinators get more done. Priorities may not be their focus, but they are still accomplishing things.”—John Perry

Full disclosure: I procrastinated choosing a book for this review. I submitted it in time, though, so no harm done. And that is precisely one of the points of “The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing,” a short, smart book by Stanford University emeritus professor of philosophy, John Perry. He suggests we stop beating ourselves up for delaying work and recognize that by procrastinating one task, we’re still accomplishing others. As his subtitle states, this is “a guide to effective dawdling, lollygagging and postponing, or getting things done by putting them off.”

In 1995, Perry wrote an article aimed at people like himself who get depressed about their habit of procrastinating. That essay touched a nerve, and based on all the feedback he received, eventually he expanded his thoughts and published this book in 2012. The original essay, ‘Structured Procrastination,’ is chapter one.

In general, Perry says, structured procrastinators get more done. Priorities may not be their focus, but they are still accomplishing things. In time the priority job gets completed, usually because some other task is acquired that they procrastinate more!

Perry is clear that he offers no cures for procrastination; his is an accepting “philosophical self-help program.” But his tactics, along with a little bit of self-deception, could make a difference. First up is task triage, or prioritizing things to do by urgency. After prioritizing, take time to realistically examine tasks and expectations, and consider the notion that sometimes “the best” isn’t necessary. In certain circumstances doing a less-than-perfect job is ok.

The daily to-do list isn’t new and everyone knows that checking off tasks is satisfying. Perry suggests breaking down tasks into smaller ones (more to check off), and also including what not to do, which is a sly idea. The list may not be a remedy, but it does help a procrastinator feel more productive.

He also suggests you use music. I was happily surprised by the chapter called ‘Get Rhythm’ and completely agree with Perry about music’s power to motivate. Music can help you get things done, propelling you forward with notes, melody and beat. I wasn’t expecting him to reference “Get Rhythm” by Johnny Cash, but he couldn’t have picked a better song to illustrate this tactic.

Perry titled his chapter about email and the internet ‘Surfing without drowning.’ His trick is to establish some rules for yourself. For example, only get online when you know you will be interrupted. Let’s say you’re planning on going out to dinner: get ready early and then log on a half hour before you’re going to leave. Yes, it’s more self-deception, but whatever works, right?

In the workplace – home or office – the worst thing for a procrastinator is to have files out of sight in a file cabinet. While that works for people Perry calls “vertical organizers,” most procrastinators are horizontal organizers. Bare spots on your desk? That’s a “dead giveaway” you’re a vertical organizer. Someone should really work on his ingenious idea of a huge round desk with a lazy susan in the middle. You could just spread all of your work out and rotate to whatever needs your attention. Until then, don’t feel bad about your stacks of folders and notebooks everywhere.

Perry made me laugh with his tips on how to collaborate with non-procrastinators. He is a wry, dry and entertaining writer, freely admitting his faults, failures and shortcomings. In less than 100 pages he manages to educate, amuse and reassure the reader. The professor’s practical philosophy is worth the time to read and contemplate – even if you have more pressing stuff to do. It’s time to start practicing the art of procrastinating.


SHARON BROWN is a Prospect Strategy Analyst with the University of Florida Office of Advancement. A graduate of UF’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, she is happy to have found a career that marries reading, writing and being curious. She and her husband, also a CLAS alum, live in Gainesville.

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