The word “procrastination” comes from Latin, meaning “to defer, delay, a putting off from day to day.” In our culture a procrastinator is often regarded as someone who is slow to act, indecisive, a scaredy-cat who probably doesn’t shower more than once a month.
Well, I’m sick of the way procrastination gets such a bad rap. It doesn’t deserve it. Procrastination and civilization go hand in hand. But try to tell that to the self-improvement experts and the success mongers.
All they give you are signs that say, “Do it now!” Or “Tomorrow may never come. Get busy today!” That kind of thinking can lead to disaster.
Do some checking and you will quickly discover that you are surrounded by procrastinators. Example: dieters. At this very moment two out of every five American adults are dieting. My source for these figures is questionable, but I don’t think my statistics are far off. And what keeps these successful dieters on the right track?
Procrastination, that’s what.
Every dieter worthy of the name spends much of the day wanting to eat something he or she shouldn’t. What gets them through the day? Procrastination, pure and simple.
“I’ll eat that sticky bun at 11. I’ll put it off until then.” And when 11 o’clock comes, the dieter says, “I’ll wait another couple of hours. Or maybe until tomorrow.” Just as calories may pile up, so can hours and days of refusing to give in to overeating. Each day in which dieters procrastinate is one to the good.
The same principle holds true for persons who are losing — or winning — a battle with alcohol. Whatever other tools they may choose to turn their lives around, procrastination is usually one of the major methods. Booze — in its many forms — will always be out there waiting. For a suffering alcoholic, the one indispensable tool is procrastination, the ability to outwait the desire to drink.
Alcoholics Anonymous is an organization loaded with slogans. Perhaps the most useful is “One day at a time.” The idea of meeting life’s struggles in 24-hour bites of procrastination has helped millions of people outwit and overcome their problems, and not just alcoholism.
Each week thousands of factory and business workers throughout America and the world hold on to their jobs because they (the workers) procrastinate. In their hearts and minds they want to go to their bosses and say, “You can take this job and shove it!” But they stop short of doing that. They procrastinate, go back to work and save their jobs for a while longer.
Procrastination is a vital part of international relations. Example: The leaders of North and South Korea would dearly love to obliterate each other’s government and people. They have felt that way since the mid-1950s. But rather than act, they have procrastinated.
Failure to procrastinate caused the U.S. government to launch a war against Iraq. It was based on mistaken beliefs, chief of which was the notion that Iraq owned WMD (weapons of mass destruction.) Instead of procrastinating to make sure, President Bush and henchman Dick Cheney said, “We must act now!” So we acted, went to war and within weeks discovered, “Whoops. No WMD here. Sorry about that, folks.” So are the families of the American warriors who lost their lives in Iraq.
A valid synonym for procrastination is patience. In this column, have I tilted too much in favor of procrastination? If so, I apologize. Like many other ideas, procrastination is neither all bad or all good. It depends on the situation at hand and the person in charge.
An example is our president. With certain exceptions, he cannot be accused of undue procrastination on any issue that enters his office or any notion that enters his mind. He is a classic man of action. And you and I — what good luck! — are along for the ride.