Smashing Paradigms – Procrastination as a Good Thing

Latest in the series on Smashing Paradigms. For my story-telling explanation of the definition of a Paradigm, see “What is a Paradigm“. One way of defining a paradigm is “we’ve always done it this way”

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As a writer, occasionally I face the “blank page”.

This blog is inspired by my friend and brilliant business coach Jacob Aldridge, who I chatted with at one such “blank page” moment, including noting to him the power of the book “The War of Art” by Stephen Pressfield, a book that David Kirkaldy introduced to me and that I’ve since recommended to countless people as a great support in how to address procrastination.

Jacob then gently guided me to a 2005 essay by Y Combinator founder Paul Graham titled “Good and Bad Procrastination“, in which Paul smashes the paradigm that procrastination is a “bad” thing.

He opens his essay with :

“The most impressive people I know are all terrible procrastinators. So could it be that procrastination isn’t always bad?

Most people who write about procrastination write about how to cure it. But this is, strictly speaking, impossible. There are an infinite number of things you could be doing. No matter what you work on, you’re not working on everything else. So the question is not how to avoid procrastination, but how to procrastinate well.

There are three variants of procrastination, depending on what you do instead of working on something: you could work on (a) nothing, (b) something less important, or (c) something more important. That last type, I’d argue, is good procrastination.

That’s the “absent-minded professor,” who forgets to shave, or eat, or even perhaps look where he’s going while he’s thinking about some interesting question. His mind is absent from the everyday world because it’s hard at work in another.

That’s the sense in which the most impressive people I know are all procrastinators. They’re type-C procrastinators: they put off working on small stuff to work on big stuff.”

He closes the essay (and please do read the whole thing) with these words :

“I think the way to “solve” the problem of procrastination is to let delight pull you instead of making a to-do list push you. Work on an ambitious project you really enjoy, and sail as close to the wind as you can, and you’ll leave the right things undone.”

Beautiful and masterful !

I look to model Paul Graham’s words in my life and work, and to inspire others to do the same. One of the joys of writing daily is that, over time, I’m creating a trove of thoughts on related and recurring themes, so search away on terms, tags, key phrases (flow, ikigai, presence, innsae and others come to mind).

I’m with Paul Graham. I support others in focussing on what’s important, As I identified in “Matter, Anti-Matter, Doesn’t Matter“, reflecting on chatting with fellow Physics students in my last year of high school :

“we were amused and baffled at so much of the stuff they had us learn, when some of it mattered, and some of it simply didn’t. We felt super pleased with ourselves to come up with the idea that not only was the universe made up of both “matter” and “antimatter”, but also that there was a third type that we had discovered through our inventive reasoning. We called it “doesn’t matter”.

So, a thought to ponder. Are you busy ? If so, what about considering how much of your universe is filled with “doesn’t matter” ?”

Good procrastination then, is about being clear with yourself on what is the “doesn’t matter” in your universe, then being ruthlessly laser-like in eliminating as much of it as you can.

doesn't matter