What are the pros and cons of procrastination?

Throughout the month of January, WordPress is sending participating bloggers a writing prompt each day. It’s a way to find some creative inspiration and perhaps make connections with other bloggers. My entries in this blogging challenge will appear here under the tag #bloganuary.

In my carefully considered opinion, there is a fine line between procrastination and carefully considering a thing before one jumps into the doing of the thing. I have a woodworking shop, and I work on a wide variety of projects there, ranging from furniture and furniture repairs to pen-turning and the making of small wooden boxes and much more. My process for a project, particularly the bigger, more complicated pieces, is to begin with the design, whether is is mine or someone else’s, and study it very carefully. Depending on the complexity of the project, this might take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks–perhaps even longer. I built a deck recently that extends from a second-floor room of my home, and it took me the better part of a year to get from the idea that I should do this to the actual purchase of materials. Some might think of this as procrastination.

It is not procrastination. It is a process I refer to as “puzzling.” (This comes from a line in the Dr. Seuss book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, wherein the Grinch “puzzled until his puzzler was sore.”) Puzzling, for me, is the process by which I work out in my mind all of the details of how a project should go together, from the design and the plans to the selection of the appropriate materials, to the tools and techniques that I will use to fabricate the various parts, to the order in which the various steps of the process should take place. Puzzling allows me to roll the project around in my head, looking at it from many different angles, thinking it all through. If I do my puzzling well, the making of the piece goes more or less as planned, and I end up with an item that pretty much matches what was in the plan or in my head.

Sometimes this goes quickly. Because my wife is a weaver (and a very good one), I have had numerous opportunities to make wooden implements and tools that she uses in her weaving processes. Often these are very simple objects, and I usually have an example on which to base my work, so the puzzling amounts to simply thinking carefully about what sort of wood to use, what sort of finish to apply, what techniques will allow me to reproduce an existing tool, often making several at a time, in the case of shuttles, for example. This kind of puzzling can happen in the span of twenty or thirty minutes, and then I’m ready. I have a clear idea in my head of what to do first, second, third, etc., and what it should look and feel like when it’s finished.

Some projects take considerably more puzzling, such as the record player cabinet I recently made for my oldest daughter. From the time I decided to do the project to the time I was ready to actually purchase materials was a period of several weeks. I had no ready-made plan, but I had a rough idea of what I wanted to make–sort of a cabinet on legs, the bottom part of which would be sized for record album storage, and above that, a shelf for the record player itself–an all-in-one unit that contained the amplifier and came with a set of external speakers. There were all sorts of structural details to work out, and there were decisions to make about joinery techniques. Some of my puzzling involved visualizing various stages of the construction, and in a few cases, I actually went out to the shop to try a few things out with some scrap wood before committing to that part of the design. My daughter’s husband provided key dimensions and made suggestions as I sent him rough sketches of my ideas. A few weeks later, I had a dimensioned drawing to work from, and an ordered list of fabrication steps. And that was the end of the puzzling stage–from then on it was simply a matter of obtaining materials and working through my plan. (And for the record, she loved it.)

So I would consider processes like my “puzzling” time to be among the “pros” of procrastination. In such cases, it’s not really procrastination at all, but rather a methodical planning process that actually saves time by reducing the likelihood of errors.

In some cases, I apply a similar “puzzling” process to other kinds of decision-making, which may make it seem to others like I’m procrastinating, and I’m fine with that–I’d rather be accused of taking my time deciding than to make a dumb decision that I may ultimately regret. (And I have a lot of experience with dumb decisions.)

But there are obviously many situations in which procrastination is a very poor response. I know this primarily from having procrastinated at times when quick decisions or quick actions were needed, and then living with the regret of not having decided or acted in time. A friend’s request for help generally deserves a quick response, for example. The decision to see one’s doctor about a troubling medical problem is often one that should not be put off. Not procrastinating in that situation could be the difference between “thankfully, we got it early” and “sorry, there’s nothing we can do.”

Not all procrastination involves life or death decisions, but our choices to act quickly still matter a lot. Since my retirement, I am responsible for the washing of dishes, which needs to get done at least once a day. If I procrastinate doing that chore, I may have freed up some time for myself, but it is at the expense of making meal preparation more of a hassle later on, when a needed utensil or pot or dish is dirty. (Which reminds me, I have a sinful of dirty dishes that need washing right now.)

I have been known to procrastinate the making of phone calls, because I am an introvert, and if you’re an introvert, too, you know exactly what I mean. But this is almost never a good idea, and I have learned that the best way to handle this is to get it done early and quickly. During the pandemic, while I was still working as a staff pastor, one of my responsibilities was to make about twenty-five calls to regular attenders to check in on them, find out if they were doing okay, or if they were sick and needed someone to bring food or medicine or help out in some other way. This was a process that took at least a couple of hours, depending on how much the people I called wanted to talk. Frankly, I pretty much dreaded this task every week, and initially put it off for as long as I could, which often meant I was scrambling at the end of the week to get all of my work done. I finally decided that I needed to prioritize this task and do it early in the week, so it wasn’t hanging over my head for the rest of the week.

I have used a daily to-do list since I was in my twenties, but it took me many years to learn to do the more unpleasant tasks on the list first, getting them out of the way so that their looming presence didn’t spoil the experience of doing the tasks I really enjoyed. Authors of books on time management routinely point out that it is common to spend much of your time doing things you’d rather not do in order to have time to do the things that you really love to do. I worked a lot of frustrating years before I took that advice to heart.

Anyway, that’s about all I have time to say about that. Those dishes aren’t going to do themselves.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: