Brain Food #600

It can wait until tomorrow

Thoughts of the day

“Procrastination is the thief of time,” wrote the British poet Edward Young. We despise it when time is lost, when a flight is delayed, when on our way to an important appointment we face a series of red traffic lights, when someone makes us wait to meet them. We have largely unlearned how to waste time.

However, what if a concept the modern world demonises so much could have hidden benefits when examined more closely? Procrastination, in its more general sense, implies the postponement of important tasks, but it can also mean the delay of decision-making until the last possible moment.

A professor of finance and law, Frank Portnoy, pinpoints the benefits of this by providing an example of professional tennis players returning a serve:

“For example, a professional tennis player has about 500 milliseconds to return a serve. A tennis court is 78 feet baseline-to-baseline, and professional tennis serves come in at well over 100 miles per hour. Most of us would say that a professional tennis player is better than an amateur because they are so fast. But, in fact, what I found and what the studies of superfast athletes show is that they are better because they are slow. They are able to perfect their stroke and response to free up as much time as possible between the actual service of the ball and the last possible millisecond when they have to return it.”

Procrastination could also be perceived as a filtering mechanism, a way for us to identify what is truly important. Bad procrastination can lead to guilt, but good procrastination can alleviate us from it. Portnoy writes, “We will always have more things to do than we can possibly do, so we will always be imposing some sort of unwarranted delay on some tasks.”

We can be slaves to our to-do lists, and procrastination can be a blessing when it pushes into the future what does not belong to the present. Look at your to-do list, and consider whether some of the items on it can wait until tomorrow. And, if the answer is yes, consider whether they are worth doing at all.