Stanford professor knows how to procrastinate without guilt

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Published: December 17,2012

Tags: John Perry, procrastination, The Art of Procrastination

"The Art of Procrastination" by John Perry is published by Workman Publishing ($12.95 hardback).

“The Art of Procrastination” by John Perry is published by Workman Publishing ($12.95 hardback).

Here is a book many of us can love. You can even put off reading it without feeling guilty. In fact, I delayed giving the full long title of this little gem: it’s “The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing. Lollygagging?” What a lovely old-fashioned word, but those who lollygag know what it means. It was used often in my childhood days in rural Mississippi.

The synopsis of this book states that it is not for Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton or Steven Spielberg as clearly they have no trouble getting stuff done. For the great majority of us, though, what a comfort to discover that we’re not wastrels and slackers, but doers in our own way. It may sound counter-intuitive, but according to the author, you can accomplish a lot by putting things off. He calls it “structured procrastination.”

Here I’ve been beating myself up all these years for procrastinating, but like Perry, I manage to get things done in my own way. Journalists can only procrastinate so long as we live by deadlines.

Perry is professor emeritus of philosophy at Stanford University and co-host of the syndicated public radio program “Philosophy Talk” and he has published other books. So needless to say, he may dawdle and procrastinate but he finally gets things done.

There’s a difference between procrastinating and being lazy, he points out (and I’m really glad he did). “I’m not lazy,” he writes. “I do a lot of stuff, as long as it’s a way of not doing something else that I’m supposed to do.” Hmm.

In 1995, while not working on some project he should have been working on, Perry began to feel rotten about himself. “But then I noticed something. On the whole, I had a reputation as a person who got a lot done and made a reasonable contribution … a paradox,” he writes. “Rather than getting to work on my important projects, I began to think about this conundrum. I realized that I was what I call a structured procrastinator: a person who gets a lot done by not doing other things.”

If that describes you, get this little 92-page book and assuage yourself of all guilt about the things you’ve put off. Perry points out a big time suck of modern life – surfing the internet. He never surfs until he’s already hungry for lunch.

This book is an expansion of a short confessional essay Perry wrote in 1996 and he seems surprised by the favorable acceptance it’s received. “All this incredibly profound and deep stuff I write in philosophy, at least according to me, really hasn’t made the impact that this little essay did,” he said.

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