Time Well Spent
The importance of time management in our increasingly connected world is constantly emphasised, but is there something to be said for stepping back and allowing some time to pass before you take action?
Seems interesting, right? Maybe even educational? You’re not doing much. You could read it right now. Or, you could fold down the corner of the page and, satisfied that you have made some small contribution to getting the job done, say to yourself “I will come back and read this later”. And yet you probably never will.
Hamlet had procrastination down: “Now I could drink hot blood / And do such bitter business as the day / Would quake to look on,” he exclaims, ready to take murderous revenge right there and then. Does he? No. “Soft, now to my mother” – it’s a nice chat with mum first. Certainly, society at large is troubled by the notion of what it perceives as unnecessary delay – barely convinced by the possibility that delay may in fact be a sign of diplomacy, tact, strategy or careful consideration.
The philosophy of management gurus of the 1970s –“first things first, second things not at all,” as Peter Drucker had it – shaped the ever-intensifying, technology-fuelled western mantra that time is productivity, speed is efficiency and deadlines sacrosanct. Wilful delay is widely regarded negatively. “No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination: never put off till tomor-
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row what you can do today,” as the Earl of Chesterfield put it, a man, ironically, who had a sofa named after him.
Psychologists like to think of it as irrational, since it might act against one’s own best interests; or as a means of avoiding the judgment by others of one’s accomplishment; or as some manifestation of the fear of death.
Despite this, almost to spite societal expectation, the number of people claiming that they procrastinate “often” has increased six-fold over the last quarter century. This is according to a study cited in a self-help book, one of many now, that are designed to show you ‘How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Things Done’, as the title has it. Some 20 per cent of people are now identified as ‘chronic’ procrastinators. The figures suggest that procrastination is a distinctly modern malady, or a behaviour that more and more people are comfortable with.
But might procrastination simply be an indication that we fill our lives with so much, and that so much of it doesn’t actually have to be done? Might it not suggest that what we are actually doing is just more important than what we have chosen to delay doing – since by doing one thing we are, by definition,