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VOL. 36 | NO. 39 | Friday, September 28, 2012

Read this book someday, just not today

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

Print | Front Page | Email this story

The big project you’ve got on your desk is due Thursday.

And so far today, you’ve managed to get a lot done. You’ve cleaned your middle drawer, checked emails, faxed an order you should’ve sent to the vendor last week, organized lunch for Thursday’s meeting and found that management book your co-worker wanted to read.

Yes, you’ve accomplished a lot today. Just not on the big project.

But go back and think: you got a lot done, so carpe tomorrow. In the new book The Art of Procrastination by John Perry, you’ll see how foot-dragging may be a step in the right direction.

Humans are supposedly rational beings, known for higher-thinking brains. We can, therefore, prognosticate enough to recognize that unpleasant or necessary tasks will eventually need doing – so why do we put them off until the last minute?

It’s because we tend to act against our better judgments, which Plato and Aristotle called akrasia. When akrasia consists of dawdling, Perry (professor emeritus of philosophy at Stanford) likes to refer to it as structured procrastination, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The Art of Procrastination

by John Perry

c.2012, Workman Publishing

$12.95

112 pages

Here’s why: Like most people, you probably have a daily to-do list. On it, there are a small number of things you need to complete, and one of them is very important. With little-to-no effort, you can generally finish the lesser tasks each day and feel good about crossing them off the list. That, Perry says, is how secret procrastinators get a reputation for getting lots of things done.

But remember, the important task is still on the list.

Eventually, Perry says, and probably before your deadline, the once-onerous task will become do-able when something less appealing bumps it from the top spot on your list. Or you’re in a better mood to do it. Or you finally figure out a plan. Thus, structured procrastination turns your negative trait into a positive.

“The trick,” he says, “is to pick the right sorts of projects for the top of the list.”

And if that doesn’t give you the psychological boost you need, try doing the task in small bites. Play “perky” music to get you going. Find a collaborator who takes responsibility for your time-frame, or just go ahead and embrace your procrastination. You might be surprised at what you can accomplish.

At just 112 pages, The Art of Procrastination seems more like a pamphlet than a book; indeed, author John Perry says this mini-volume sprang from a previously-published essay. That makes it quick-to-read, but there’s a lot to learn.

Perry makes readers laugh at themselves with real information presented in a lighthearted, decidedly un-scholarly manner. Yes, this is a fun book, but it’s not frivolous. Perry eventually admits that procrastination is really not a good trait, but that it can be handled with the right attitude.

So if your entire life runs a day behind everyone else’s, or if you’ve fruitlessly poked a Poky One, The Art of Procrastination might help deal with the situation. Grab this book. Read it.

Don’t wait.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.

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