Procrastinating at Work? We'll Discuss It Tomorrow.

Bob Goldman on

Really, I don't mean to pick on Ben Franklin, but what choice do I have? It was the aphorist from Philly who came up with this piece of phenomenally bad advice: "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today."

It's catchy, sure. It's also dead wrong. And dead backwards. It should be: "Don't do today what you can put off until tomorrow." Or, better, the day after tomorrow. Or, better yet, the week after the day after tomorrow, or, best of all, never.

Think about it: If you wait long enough, projects that you put off today could be assigned to someone else tomorrow. Or the project could disappear. Or you could disappear. (Ask a Twitter employee. It can happen.)

Despite these common-sense truths, procrastination has gotten a bad rap. Case in point: a recent Brain Matters column in The Washington Post by Richard Sima. The title says it all: "What Causes Your Brain to Procrastinate and How to Face It."

As you might suspect, Sima's answer to this question is not "with your head held high." Instead, he treats procrastination as a cognitive malady that, well, needs treatment.

"We believe that doing tasks will somehow be easier in the future," Sima writes. Procrastinators cling to this misbelief, even though, as Arizona State cognitive neurologist Samuel McClure puts it, "You know it's going to stink in the future just as much as it's going to stink doing it now, but internally you just can't help yourself."


(How Professor McClure knows about your stink-o assignments is a mystery to me. I certainly didn't tell him.)

I will spare you the neurological mumbo-jumbo about a possible source for procrastination. Spoiler alert -- it's the "dorsal medial prefrontal cortex." This is the part of your brain that "weighs rewards and effort," and was unquestionably closed for repair when you decided to accept a job offer from your present employer.

Plus, being humans, instead of being lab rats, scientific studies of our behavior show that we "tend to be more impulsive and prefer small rewards sooner over a larger reward later." That's why we put off the long-term benefits of dieting for the short-term benefits of gobbling a pint of "Chubby Hubby" right now. A lab rat would never make that choice. As everyone knows, lab rats prefer "Coffee, Coffee, BuzzBuzzBuzz."

If I haven't yet convinced you of the benefits of procrastination, you're ready to learn "How to Face Procrastination." Reporter Sima has two strategies.


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