A look inside the magical, enigmatic and captivating mind of a procrastinator
These were prophetic words which I had written several years ago as a rather flippant Facebook post while I was, you guessed it, procrastinating.
Ironically, I stumbled upon this prescient message to my future self while browsing my Facebook memories in a present state of procrastination, and with a shock I realised that my entire loop of dithering had now come full circle.
The procrastinator of the past was facing off with that of the present, and we stared at each other in dumb horror and with not a little fascination.
It dawned on me that procrastination is in some ways the belief that the future version of yourself will be entirely different to who you are now.
So great is my faith in the resourcefulness and reliability of who I will be in two weeks’ time, that I can fully embrace who I am in this moment, and completely give in to the bliss, the sheer relief, of delaying an undesirable task.
But who am I in this moment? Are procrastinators lazy, irresponsible, lay-abouts? I think, in many ways, the need to procrastinate arises from a profound desire to live life to the fullest. We are not lazy - we are epicurean.
I believe procrastinators are a special breed who long to while away their days immersed in pleasant conversation, to observe the subtle beauty of the flowers in the field, to taste the bread and drink the wine and ponder life’s many wonders.
Very Zen, I know – but the truth is that this need to live in ways that are purely pleasant leads to a special brand of suffering which all those who procrastinate know too well, what Tim Urban referred to as the “dark playground”.
In this tremulous zone, the rebellious delight of playing when you should be working is very soon followed by a deeper sense of impending doom, and with that, feelings of anxiety and self-loathing.
And the more you procrastinate, the more these feelings mount, until you are so riddled with self-made fear that a panicked state of flight-or-fight becomes triggered.
At this point, the procrastinator has two options: fly ever further across the distance that exists between now and your deadline, extend the tortuous leisure time just to escape the inevitable end; or fight the urges that compel you to work, tell yourself: “No, I will not do this task, because I must still procrastinate…”
But then something truly remarkable happens – Future Self arrives like a guardian angel, waiting benignly in the wings for that precise moment when you are just about to call in and say, “I can’t, I quit, I hate myself.”
Serene and resolved, Future Self arises from the wreckage of your procrastination precisely when you knew she would, instructs you to move aside as she diligently completes the Everest of accumulated tasks, and deposits you safely at your deadline.
When the next deadline appears you decide to start early and make hay while the sun shines, resolved to avoid the “dark playground” at all costs. But then you notice that the sun is shining, spring has sprung, and there are so many more enjoyable things you could be doing at this very moment. It’s okay, you decide, I’ll just delegate this task to my Future Self.
Editor: Anchen Coetzee
Written by: Naomi Roebert