Friday, 4 December 2020

Structured Procrastination

Updated: March 9, 2013 2:13 pm

INDIA THAT IS BHARAT

Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow. That is the general principle by which every Tom, Dick or Hari lives. So does Satiricus. For instance, Satiricus has been thinking of devoting this column to his new year resolutions since the new year began more than two months ago. Then why has he not yet written it? Because making new year resolutions is a serious business, and one must hasten slowly while going about it. Satiricus knows that some of his unfriendly friends say he is just a lazybones, that’s why. But they do not understand the deep import of Satiricus’s seeming slovenliness. They cannot comprehend that there is a scientific principle behind what looks like laziness, and there is even an impressive name for it—the Power of Positive Procrastination. Scientists have recently come to know about it, which Satiricus knew all along. Among them is a professor at the prestigious Stanford University in the US of A (where else?). After 17 years of what Prof. John Perry calls “structured procrastination” and busy boors would call deliberate delay, he has produced a scholarly tome of full 92 pages.

Before this labour of love on laziness this professor, unlike, alas, Satiricus, was a typical self-hating procrastinator, until the day dawned when it dawned upon him that he was not exactly lazy. When he put off checking students’ exam papers he didn’t just sit around idly; he would sharpen his pencils or play ping pong with his students. “Procrastinators”, he realised, “seldom do nothing”. Satiricus can only smile at this learned professor’s realisation of such a self-evident fact. At the same time Satiricus must admit he had no idea there could be a systematic structure to the serious business of being busy doing nothing, which this eruditely idle professor has laboriously laid down.

The key to procrastinated productivity, he argues, is to make more commitments—but to be methodical about it. At the top of your to-do list, put a couple of daunting, if not impossible, tasks that are vaguely important-sounding (but really aren’t) and seem to have deadlines (but really don’t). Then, further down the list, include some doable tasks that really matter. “Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list,” Dr. Perry writes. “With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.” Prof. Perry generously acknowledged that he has stood on the shoulders of giants, in particular one Robert Benchley. In 1930 Benchley revealed how he mustered the willpower to pore through scientific journals enough to fill a bookshelf when an article was due from him. “The psychological principle is this,” Benchley revealed. “Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t what he is supposed to be doing at that moment.”

Well, now, what does Satiricus have to say to all this? He says Prof. Perry is a learned lazybones but he had to learn his laziness from this Benchley fellow, while Satiricus is born lazy, which inevitably made him a journalist. He is too lazy to acquire knowledge of any subject on which he writes knowledgeably. And that is the key to his ideal idleness. With apologies to the New York Times motto, “All the news that’s fit to print”,Satiricus writes all the nonsense that’s fit to print.

Immoral Dinosaurs

That Islam perpetually khatre mein hai is well known. But from whom? Deoband knows at least two dozen types of alarmingly anti-Islamic activities in which flawed faithfuls indulge—ranging from men who use black hair dye to women who ride bicycles. But the other day the British journal Economist reported a far more deadly danger to Islam—dead dinosaurs! And that too in the homeland of Islam, Saudi Arabia. This came to light when the other day Saudi Arabia’s morality police, called Hayaa, suddenly marched into an educational exhibition of plaster models of dinosaurs, turned off the lights, and ordered everyone out.

Nobody knew why, nobody was told why, so naturally enough many faithfuls had many fanciful explanations. One of them guessed it was just a temporary measure, until the Hayaa police could separate male and female dinosaurs and put them in separate rooms. Another person declared that one of the female dinosaurs had been caught in public without a male guardian-dinosaur. Yet another cautioned people to wait to judge the incident until they knew what the dinosaurs were wearing. To cap it all, one person said the Hayaa moral police closed down the exhibition because they were worried the people would find that the dinosaurs were more highly evolved than themselves. What does Satiricus, a crassly communal cuss, think of all this? He awaits Deoband’s Jehad on dead dinosaurs.

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