A Procrastinator Sings

was supposed to write an article on procrastination – but procrastinated doing it

Image: Ellen Stothart

I’d like to apologise. This could’ve been a really great article about procrastination, the self-inflicted sickness that slowly asphyxiates productivity, full of insight and well-researched ideas expressed in gorgeous sentences. I had loads of interesting things to tell you about that you might have found amusing or curious or even felt a real sense of pathos with. But instead, I procrastinated fiendishly, and have ended up having to send in this losing scratchcard, this nothingness, to my presumably livid editor, and now you are having to wade through it. I’m not trying to be clever – I really am sorry that this hasn’t turned out the way it was supposed to. And please don’t think that in procrastinating away the time that I’d diligently put aside to write the article that I enjoyed the procrastination at all.

I used to think of people who addictively and compulsively procrastinate as lazy light-speed self-gratifiers that avoided doing work because not doing it is more fun and ultimately more enjoyable than just actually doing the work itself. This is not the case at all. But still I am sorry, and I hope that in telling you why I personally never managed to get the work done, there’ll be some kind of shared intrigue between me and you about what it actually means for an individual to knowingly put-off doing something really important way past the point at which panic sets in and any genuinely rational agent would do something corrective, rather than drifting on into the dread of it all.

I’d pitched the idea for an article about procrastination to my editor three weeks ago, and he gave me the go-ahead. “Three weeks” is roughly akin to “a decade” when converted into student years. I was confident I’d have the requisite 800 words done within the allotted amount of time, probably with a few days’ change to boot. But as we know from Parkinson’s Adage: work expands to fill the time available for its completion. So when I’d got a few days to go before the print deadline, I’d amassed an impressive total of exactly no words for the article. The main chronological casualty was therefore just not thinking about the work because it seemed so remote. Despite the fact that this two-and-a-bit-week delay was my biggest net squandering, it completely slipped me by without anxiety.

It was in the last couple of days, when the work became burningly urgent, that the real suffering began. One of the days was spent sat at the desk always about to work, but instead of starting at any point I frittered away the time doing a series of increasingly arcane internet quizzes and then deciding I deserved a beer at about 16:00, which turned into seven. The second day I decided I couldn’t face wasting another day just sat at the desk doing nothing, so I bravely resolved to waste the day outside doing nothing. I walked around the city walls by myself listening to Kendrick Lamar’s new album, followed by eleven episodes of Melvyn Bragg’s bottomlessly diverting radio show In Our Time, all without feeling lonely or bored as I definitely would’ve done without a deadline hanging over me. When I got home, I was cold and tired and pointlessly conversant with Zeno’s Paradox.

I was clearly in no fit state to work, so instead of working I decided that I would make some dinner and get an early night’s sleep so that I could be fresh and alert for a hard day’s work in the morning. I decided I’d get a pizza, so I went online and tried to find a valid Domino’s Pizza discount code for three hours straight. This, combined with the litre of coffee I’d shakily quaffed to help with the Turing-esque code search, and the general anxiety about the amount of work ahead, meant that I lay awake in bed starring at my starkly shadowed bedroom ceiling until 04:30, at which point I could feel my pulse in my eyes. The only thing for it was to snaffle about five times the recommended dose of Nytol, which would guarantee a refreshing night’s sleep.

It was not a refreshing night’s sleep. I woke up at 13:00 the next day feeling lobotomized and panicked. I had just a few hours to go. I used to calm myself as a teenager by walking along the same two-mile road circuit in my hometown in West Yorkshire, but evidently there was no time to get back there on the train and get the work done the same day. So as an appropriate ersatz, I went on Google Street View and did the whole route, one excruciating click at a time, virtually travelling deeper into my organisational morass. The only sense of relief I got from the experience was the sweet release of watching the deadline go past, safe in the knowledge that I was now irreversibly buggered, so I might as well relax.

Procrastination promises pleasure now and pain later, the mental equivalent of a pay-day lender pedalling instant satisfaction at an unspoken pernicious rate of interest. But it’s actually much more serious than that, because the satisfaction never comes. What comes instead is dread. Dread, accompanied by the dreadful knowledge that you will find yourself in it again when the next deadline bares its deadliness down on you. I’m sorry the article never came together – I hope this won’t happen again.

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