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In Praise of Procrastination

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the finally-getting-around-to-posting-this dept.

Education 118

Ponca City writes "Every year, millions of Americans pay needless penalties because they don't file their taxes on time, forgo huge amounts of money in matching 401(k) contributions because they never get around to signing up for a retirement plan, and risk blindness from glaucoma because they don't use their eyedrops regularly. James Surowiecki writes that procrastination is a basic human impulse, a peculiar irrationality stemming from our relationship to time — in particular, from a tendency that economists call 'hyperbolic discounting,' the ability to make rational choices when they're thinking about the future, but, as a future event gets closer, short-term considerations overwhelm their long-term goals. Game theorist Thomas Schelling proposes that we think of ourselves a collection of competing selves, jostling, contending, and bargaining for control, where one represents your short-term interests (having fun, putting off work, and so on), while another represents your long-term goals. Philosopher Mark Kingwell puts it in existential terms: 'Procrastination most often arises from a sense that there is too much to do, and hence no single aspect of the to-do worth doing. Underneath this rather antic form of action-as-inaction is the much more unsettling question whether anything is worth doing at all.'"

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118 comments

FYI (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148152)

Ponca City's link is over 5 years old.

I'll contribute usefully to this (0, Redundant)

Coeurderoy (717228) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148154)

but latter i'm busy right now :-)

Re:I'll contribute usefully to this (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148212)

but latter i'm busy right now :-)

The word you were looking for is "later", not latter.

HTH. HAND.

Hyperbolic FP (4, Funny)

shawb (16347) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148160)

I meant to get first post, but something more important came up.

Oh yeah ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148778)

Procrastinate now, don't put it off !

Re:Hyperbolic FP (3, Informative)

Forty Two Tenfold (1134125) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148870)

If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination. -- Thomas De Quicey

Re:Hyperbolic FP (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34151466)

And before your know it, he's quoting some obscure English drug addict on Slashdot.

Re:Hyperbolic FP (1)

vlueboy (1799360) | more than 3 years ago | (#34150572)

I meant to get first post, but something more important came up.

Amateur. Real procrastinators always go for the elusive last post!

Re:Hyperbolic FP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34151110)

A funny post :) I registered so I could congratulate you the right way, not as Anonymous Coward.

Well, I will register shortly as ?

No time for this right now (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148162)

I bookmarked the article so I can read it later.

Re:No time for this right now (3, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148366)

An like so much of procrastination, it will probably not be necessary to read it later because much better articles will come along, or the theory will be completely debunked, or its fleeting (and perceived) importance will vanish.

Procrastination is a learned workload management technique. People learn that the demands placed upon them by parents, society, or physical environment, can often be avoided just by waiting it out.

Every day you put off picking up your toys as a child is one more day you don't have to. Every day you avoid re-thatching the roof of your grass shack is another day to hunt and gather.

Many, if not most, "penalties" are simply nulled out with the passage of time. So rather than being irrational, this is a perfectly normal rational, learned workload management technique.

The brilliance of an intelligent species is the avoidance of unnecessary waste of energy and time on problems that solve themselves, while focusing on goals that really matter, and which will not solve themselves.

Actual penalties endured due to procrastination are failures of risk management skills, not some imaginary "irrational relationship to time".

Re:No time for this right now (3, Insightful)

Nursie (632944) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148418)

And don't forget the number of times that there are no penalties to avoid at all, because it turns out that the activity was unnecessary.

Yeah, I'm looking at you, work. The number of times it turns out that someone else has already done something, often even before I'm assigned a task, well, it pays to procrastinate.

Difference between healthy and unhealthy... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148598)

When talking about procrastination, we must either talk about the healthy or unhealthy procrastination. Every single person procrastinates to some degree and for most it is indees exactly as you say (negative effects tend to be short lived or minor and there are many positive side effects). Procrastination can also be rather ugly psychological problem, in which case that doesn't quite hold true.

Anecdote 1

When I was at my first job (18 years old, straight out of high school and landed in a great job. I was rather competent at what I did but I also had a lot of luck...), I suddenly got a huge load of responsibility. The company would sell projects (I won't go into detail about what it was. But the things to know were: They cost thousands of dollars a piece, last for a year or so and most customers weren't that interested to pay attention the whole time... So very poorly ran project might go a year unnoticed by a customer but at that point, shit would hit the fan) and I was assigned quite a lot of those. For most of the time, I handled those really well but then there were a few more problematic ones: We couldn't proceed before I would get some data from the customers. "I'll give them a call some day." Fine. A few weeks went... And at that point the procrastination started to kick in: "Shit. This is still on hold? It's a bit embarrassing to call them now and admit that we've done nothing during the first six weeks. Not the end of the world but unpleasant. I'll do it soon". Guess whether I did or not? Another month rolled by. "Shit. This is pretty bad. Not catastrophic but bad none the less. But the later I do this, the worse it gets... I'll better call them soon.". A few more weeks. At that point my superior began making some inquiries but I managed to dodge them. A few more weeks... At this point it was pretty "catastrophic" (Well, there was a large chance that the company would have to return some money and apologize... I might or might not have been fired for that) but I knew that every day made it worse.

I kept promising myself "I'll make the call after lunch." or "I'll make the call tomorrow." or "I'll make the call when it is exactly 2:30 pm."... But I could never do it when the moment came. I wasn't lazy or incompetent: I would do every new project and most old project very well. It just were those few skeletons in the closet that I just couldn't force myself to deal with. My superior began finding out and put some pressure on me to continue with the project... But I couldn't make the call. I liked what I did but every single time I heard a phone ring I thought "Maybe this time one of those customers calls...". The stress became so bad that I had to take a few shots before going to work, just so I could make myself do that... How did I eventually solve the problem? I quit. The awesome job had just gotten too stressful because of those few cases and after months of suffering I had proved myself that I just couldn't deal with them. So... That was it.

Anecdote 2

I'm not sure if this is technically an anecdote or not, because it is my general process... I guess it is an anecdote about a single procrastinating person.

I, like many people, do things the last night before deadline. And very late at night at that. But it isn't laziness: I don't choose immediate gratification over long term goal... As I don't enjoy myself while I delay things. Sure, up untill the deadline is close, I'll just think "Meh, I can do it later. It isn't a biggie." (As is common for procrastinators). Then, when deadline is close I think that healthy procrastinators say "Shit. I'll have to do it now." or "Meh. Too late. I just won't do it in time". But I? I can't start it but I won't accept not doing it on time... So I can't do anything fun as I know "I should be doing [the thing]" and will just feel anxious and bad about that. But I also can't start the thing... Untill it is really, really as late as it can be. That 2 hour thing that should be due 8am next morning? I'll start feel bad about it at 6 pm. Won't do anything fun but also won't begin doing it. Can't go to sleep (as I simply have to do it)... This allnighter of anxiety continues until about 6:30 am at which point I will begin doing what I should have and finish the thing shoddily in 1,5h.

Anecdote 3

It is obvious that this is a major problem and I probably should seek professional help. I would have the money to do that. I just... haven't gotten around to doing it.... yeah. My life isn't ruined yet (despite many, many failed opportunities), right? I'll have plenty of time to seek help at some point later...

So, there obviously are two levels of procrastination: Healthy and unhealthy. What you said doesn't seem to apply to the latter.

Re:Difference between healthy and unhealthy... (2, Insightful)

fbjon (692006) | more than 3 years ago | (#34150952)

Well hey, you're definitely not the only one around here with this problem. I basically feel bad about procrastinating, so to avoid that feeling I put it out of my mind, obviously leading to some more procrastination!

Cue Benny Hill music here...

The upshot is that it only applies to certain areas. In other areas I'm still procrastinating some (as normal), but always finishing before deadline and with very good results to boot. My problem is transferring this skill between areas of work.

I think having a specific plan helps. Not just a mindmap, but actual steps to be taken when and where, that lead to a certain goal without fail. Of course, life itself doesn't have very many maps about, so in that case pick a partial goal, and remember the first pair of pics from this comic. [viruscomix.com] Or to put it in more work-related terms, a situation that is not yet completely FUBARed can still be salvaged, and with skill, nobody will even notice. And even if someone notices, at least the situation is salvaged.

Incidentally, I can recommend reading through that entire webcomic, it's made me realise many important things.

Re:Difference between healthy and unhealthy... (1)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 3 years ago | (#34151610)

About your anecdote 1, obviously there's bad management. That's what project managers are for, you know, to keep track of to-dos and if any of them require contacting the client. Arranging meetings, etc. Have you arranged that meeting yet? No? Well do it, now. How many projects are there? Does the company have a list of todos for each project? You know, like using Microsoft Project (TM) to keep track of each one of them?

The company I currently work for has weekly meetings for each single project. Don't get me wrong, these aren't "meetings with powerpoing presentations etc.", but operational meetings. How much we've advanced, if there are any problems with development, unknown bugs, need feedback, things that really concern us developers.

  As much as those meetings seem to be a pain in the ass, they're necessary to keep the engine going. Sometimes I've found that my approach to a certain project was going in a completely wrong direction. True, it's good to let developers work, but don't give them the full responsibility for the project. Programmers have so many things to work in that we lose track of things like customer support.

In other words, if a worker ends up procrastinating and delaying a project, here's some advice for the company: YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG.

Sorry if this is a bit off-topic, but sometimes I have to get these things out of my system.

Obligatory (4, Funny)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148164)

Re:Obligatory (4, Insightful)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148408)

that's a good short-term graph. Long term, over decades, my procrastination curve is climbing upward as a second order polynomial, because I realize more and more of the modern rat-race "obligations" are arbitrary made-up bullshit.

Re:Obligatory (1)

quenda (644621) | more than 3 years ago | (#34151522)

Must be a Ph.D. in arts, or they'd know to label their axes. Is that meant to be time on the horizontal axis?

From personal experience (5, Interesting)

lanceran (1575541) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148198)

I've been fighting procrastination for several years, and I am sure many have and still are. The one(and seemingly only) solution that I have found is to change your entire attitude towards your life. Procrastination arises from your mental extrapolation of how long a certain task will do and how many other small sub-tasks it will include. This line of thinking is most likely to overwhelm you and stop you right in you tracks("well, just look how much there's still to do, i'd rather do it later, when i am not as busy"). This is, at least for me, is the source of laziness. The right way to approach things is not to think about the future AT ALL, it is hard, but possible. Living in the moment and doing what excites you at one particular moment in time still somehow accomplishes the task at hand, and you don't spend your time thinking about it as a bunch of small sub-tasks. Think of it as writing a 50 page essay. You don't just sit down and start thinking "oh I have to write a 50 page essay, look at how much planning i have to do before it", when to actually do it, all you have to do is just separate it in sections based on topics that it covers, sit down and start writing in said section sentence by sentence. Different approach, same result. This advice, my fellow geeks, also applies to interaction with opposite sex. "Oh no, i might say something, and then she might say something and i'll ruin everything so i shouldn't say anything at all." - Bad. "I feel like saying something to her right now, I should say it." - Good.

Re:From personal experience (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148296)

tl;dr

Re:From personal experience (4, Insightful)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148362)

I'm not convinced that the "live in the moment" attitude really works for getting large projects done, though. At least not for me. You're right that breaking down a project into its component tasks is helpful for avoiding that "crushing weight" feeling that scares me off from working on a large project, but doing what excites me right now tends to lead to me doing fun stuff instead of getting work done.

The problem, I think, arises when none of those little sub-tasks has any specific reward associated with it. So, you know that you can easily do part 1 of a 27-part project, but you also know that when you finish part 1, you won't really feel any closer to being done than you did with 0 parts done. With no reward - not even a sense of accomplishment - for these individual tasks, the call of fun non-work-related activities grows more seductive.

The key for me has always been to put myself in a situation where the fun non-work-related activities are unavailable. That doesn't work out well for getting stuff done around the house, since all my fun stuff is there, but it works a lot better for my job.

Re:From personal experience (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148370)

Maybe that's the true trick with test-driven programming: Each single test which no longer fails is a reward.

Re:From personal experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34149572)

However, writing the test is step 1 of 27. If you actually do it right, then after you wrote the test, the test is failing (implementation comes after the test). Isn't that counter productive? You just got yourself an error, a red bar. It feels like "Yeah great, now I am at -1 of 27".

Re:From personal experience (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#34149800)

Since at the time you are writing the test, the test is supposed to fail, a failing test is a success. A succeeding test would be a failure.

Re:From personal experience (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34150852)

Sure, but I still get that red bar :)

Ever heard of that test where you are supposed to read some color names on screen? Unfortunately green is colored in red, red is colored blue etc.? Maybe that's why.

For the record, I do test driven development (kind of, I write test and code at the same time/close to each other, not necessarily test first and then code.). The bad thing is not writing the tests and the red bars while writing. It's only later, when you do an architectural change that unfortunately has the effect of making you rewrite a lot of test because they are failing with lots of red bars :) I know it's better than having the whole thing fall apart at a later stage and not having tests at all, but it still sucks, because I now have one of those huge piles of work in front of me. And no, test architecture can not always save you from this, unfortunately.

Re:From personal experience (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148376)

I've been fighting procrastination for several years

I used to hate procrastination but then ran across the concept that, for a programmer, procrastination is a virtue (perhaps Scott Meyers in MEFC++).

The thinking is roughly along the lines of "don't build what you don't need"... sometimes you end up never needing it.

Now I embrace procrastination as a technique to manage priorities.

Re:From personal experience (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148422)

"I feel like saying something to her right now, I should say it."

*Uuuuh, hey, babe, wanna get laid?

D'oh!

Re:From personal experience (1)

lanceran (1575541) | more than 3 years ago | (#34151308)

"I feel like saying something to her right now, I should say it."

*Uuuuh, hey, babe, wanna get laid?

D'oh!

Obviously, you don't come up to a hot girl on the street and ask her to have sex with you. If you want to do that, you're obviously insane(or very confident). Instead, ask yourself not what you want to get(sex that is), but what you want to say when you come up to her. I highly doubt that you'll come up with "do you want to have sex?". I hope you're getting my point.

The right way to approach things is not to think about the future AT ALL, it is hard, but possible.

AT ALL, means AT ALL. Your D'oh means that you're trying to predict the future again.

Re:From personal experience (2, Informative)

Nahor (41537) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148442)

"I feel like saying something to her right now, I should say it." - Good.

"I want to have sex with you" - Yeah, I'm sure it will work out well.

Any present actions have future consequences. Not thinking of the future means you ignore the consequences. That can't be a good thin.
As in pretty much everything in life, moderation is key. Don't over-think things that you end up never doing anything. But you still need to think things a bit. ("There is a time for thinking, and there is a time of acting")

The other reason for over-thinking is negative target fixation [wikipedia.org] where one focuses too much on the possible obstacles, ending up scaring oneself too much to act. Fix your mind on where you want to go, keeping a peripheral view on possible obstacles.

Re:From personal experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148522)

It *sometimes* work. Really.

Re:From personal experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34149058)

Son, I am disappoint with you morality.

Re:From personal experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34149104)

Father, I am disappointed with your grammar.

Re:From personal experience (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34149560)

Son, I am *whoosh*

Re:From personal experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34149932)

"I feel like saying something to her right now, I should say it." - Good.

"I want to have sex with you" - Yeah, I'm sure it will work out well.

Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't...

Re:From personal experience (2, Informative)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148646)

Getting Things Done, by David Allen [barnesandnoble.com] takes an approach that sounds compatible with what you're saying.

His idea is to offload executive functioning to your reminder system, which dispenses atomic work units that don't have prerequisites. For example, the sort of task you'd put in your reminder system is not "do taxes" or even "do schedule A", it would be more like "find mileage records and add up volunteer mileage".

Then, don't think about all the other things you have to do while you're totaling up mileage records. You'll do the other things when you pop them off the queue in your reminder system. Total Zen flow state, living in the moment and doing addition without distraction.

Re:From personal experience (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148800)

The problem with this is, when you're finished splitting up your tasks into those small units, you'll probably find that you've used up all the time you had for doing the work ...

Re:From personal experience (3, Interesting)

juxtaposter (725712) | more than 3 years ago | (#34149100)

One cost of living in the moment is it creates a tyranny of the moment. “I must do this now.” As the person who multi tasks work, home and care, I need to prioritize and sometimes avoid side tracks of what excites. That said, I am still happier with less procrastination. Three tricks that work for me: 1. When stalled with details, keep moving anyway. “Do something easy.” 2. When wanting quit, nibble. “Do one more thing” 3. When thinking of a trivial task for a third time, just do it. “Three strikes, you’re out.”

Re:From personal experience (1)

lanceran (1575541) | more than 3 years ago | (#34151688)

Tyranny of the moment only seems like a bad thing if you choose to do something bad at that moment. You see, if you'll go from a moment to a moment choosing to do something interesting or exciting, than these moment will add up and you will always be doing something interesting or exciting, resulting in you always finding yourself interested in your activities. This way, tasks don't even feel like "tasks". If you follow this direction, you may find doing something entirely different with your life, compared to what you THOUGHT you were supposed to be doing... and trust me, it might end up being better than what you have imagined yourself doing originally. However, I am not saying you should stop thinking ahead at all, thinking ahead focuses you and chooses your direction. For example, if you absolutely decide and justify to yourself that you don't want to do any drugs or drink alcohol, no matter how exciting they might seem - when you'll go into the "do next most exciting thing", alcohol or drugs will NEVER come up as an option, why would they?

The pecking order of addictiveness (3, Insightful)

turing_m (1030530) | more than 3 years ago | (#34149420)

The one(and seemingly only) solution that I have found is to change your entire attitude towards your life.

I look at things a bit differently, and it mostly works for me. I see the set of things that I could do as each having a different level of addictiveness. Together they arrange themselves in a pecking order. Whatever is available at the top of the list I tend to do. At the same time, deep down, I KNOW exactly what I should be doing.

The key for me is to remove the activities from contention that have addictiveness above the level of what I know I should be doing. As long as it takes X amount of time to get a particular fix, I don't get instant gratification. Instant gratification works best to increase addictiveness - increase the minimum delay and work necessary to get the payoff and that effort becomes something that can itself be procrastinated (coupled with the fact that you KNOW you shouldn't be doing that). And after a while the things you were addicted to don't have the same pull.

Which leads me to another observation: there is a different pecking order in terms of the potential maximum level of addictiveness versus the current level of addictiveness. e.g. If I haven't played $GAME in a month, there is virtually no pull. But I know that if I were to play $GAME now for a few hours, I would feel more compelled to do that than say, post to slashdot. This will last for a few days. If I play $GAME for a week, I will suffer withdrawal symptoms and be prone to relapses for weeks after. I've come to realize that there are certain activities that are like crack to me in terms of out-prioritizing other things, and they need to be out of my life.

Some things I don't even have to try in order to know how addictive they are. From everything that I can see, MMORPGs are the opium dens of the 21st century. They are only cheap if money is your only metric of how much they cost you. I will never try them for the same reasons I will never try any cocaine, meth or heroin.

Re:From personal experience (2, Insightful)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 3 years ago | (#34149634)

Think of it as writing a 50 page essay. You don't just sit down and start thinking "oh I have to write a 50 page essay, look at how much planning i have to do before it"

I do.

That's why I don't write 50 page essays.

Re:From personal experience (2, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#34150174)

Procrastination arises from your mental extrapolation of how long a certain task will do and how many other small sub-tasks it will include. This line of thinking is most likely to overwhelm you and stop you right in you tracks("well, just look how much there's still to do, i'd rather do it later, when i am not as busy"). This is, at least for me, is the source of laziness.

Interesting, but that's not consistent with my experience. I'm a lot more likely to procrastinate when I have less work to do, because there's plenty of time to do it. I let the work pile up until there's enough work to fill the time left, then I go at it. Of course, due to Hofstadter's law [wikipedia.org], this never ends well.

A load off my back. (1)

HamSammy (1716116) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148200)

I can spend less time rationalizing my laziness, and more time wasting my life! Thanks, Slashdot!

Thoughts Avoided (0, Offtopic)

b4upoo (166390) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148210)

It is quite easy to anger people if you direct them towards certain thoughts. We do at some level know that the Earth, the Sun and the entire galaxy will vanish as will all memory of humanity vanishing with it. Perhaps the entire universe will vanish as well. That means that all human activity is only meaningful in a very temporary way and only in relation to other humans and perhaps a few of our pets.
                  But the New Testament addresses that directly. Christ spoke of our lives being as brief as the twinkling of an eye. Therefore money, family, society, human goals, events were all void of worth with one exception. That exception was salvation and the prerequisite of baptism and repentance.
                  The easy way to confront that reality is to try to name one Etruscan or one Babylonian. Chances are that you can not. What then does it matter if an Etruscan committed a robbery, a theft, a rape, or a murder? Any harm done was fleeting and of no lasting importance at all. Without religious faith a man might think just like that. After all, we will be no more remembered than the Etruscans or Babylonians or members of thousands of other empires many of which are now not known to even have existed at all.

Re: Thoughts Avoided (3, Insightful)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148272)

The easy way to confront that reality is to try to name one Etruscan or one Babylonian. Chances are that you can not. What then does it matter if an Etruscan committed a robbery, a theft, a rape, or a murder?

Today? Nothing. Back then? A lot.
Don't make the basic mistake to dismiss the short term relevance. A lot of the things I do don't have any long term relevance (at least individually; another aspect which is easily overlooked is that the sum of individually irrelevant things can be together very relevant). But my life would be poor without them.

Re: Thoughts Avoided (3, Informative)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148322)

try to name one Etruscan or one Babylonian

Etruscan: Lars Porsenna
Babylonian: Hammurabi
Alas, I acquired a smattering of classical knowledge at high school (a few decades ago). Since the classics were taught the "old-fashioned" way (i.e. via sadistic brutality) this knowledge actually survived grad school in Engineering, among other things.

Re: Thoughts Avoided (2, Funny)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148978)

It is quite easy to anger people if you direct them towards certain thoughts.... But the New Testament ... Christ spoke of our lives...

....I see what you did there.

Actually, there is *one* thing you can do (2, Insightful)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 3 years ago | (#34149000)

Not quite all human activity.

In 5 years, what will your current work be worth?
50 years?
500?
5000? Our entire civilisation will be gone.
50,000?

Anyone name anything or anyone or from 50,000 years ago? It's a blink of an eye in geological and evolutionary terms, but there is one single thing you can do which can matter over these timescales.

Have children. Procreate. Pass your genes on.

Your genes have an unbroken line of success going back to the primordial slime 4 billion years ago. If you break that line you are just another genetic dead end.
 

Re: Thoughts Avoided (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34150418)

Wow, that is scary.

Your post implies that religious people have no moral problems with robbery, murder, and rape as they are fleeting actions in the over all scheme of things, and that the only reason they do not do those things is fear of punishment in the afterlife.

On one hand, no one can say religion is all bad. It keeps the religious from murdering and raping people!
On the other hand, it scares me to no end that such people exist.

Re: Thoughts Avoided (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34151272)

Alternatively, if I believe Christian mythology, all of my actions are meaningless because the final showdown ends in God kicking Satan's ass, throwing all the sinners to hell, etc. etc.

However, if I believe in the universe as a naturalistic entity, the tiniest action I do reverberates through all of time and space. The fact that I skipped breakfast today completely alters the future (I get up a little later tomorrow, changing other people's days, meaning that they chaotically change the lives of other people around them, meaning that completely different people are born because conception is incredibly chaotic, etc.) Even though I may not remember who someone was doesn't meant that they have had no impact on the future. (Heat death is another matter, but I'll give it a few millenia of working on that problem before the human race should throw in the towel)

Re: Thoughts Avoided (assumptions?) (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 3 years ago | (#34151438)

Ripples may not be remembered individually, but each changes the nature of the universe, and also together they can make bigger waves with futher effects. Also, as in the Time Paradox book I cited in another reply, people may have different time focuses -- past present, and the future -- which effect how they value different experiences or expectations. Also, to the extent the universe, or even multiverse, is a mystery, how do we know what is remembered or forgotten for sure across the great mystery...

Plus things can matter a lot to yourself at the time, depending on the roots you have grown -- family, community, friends, hobbies, causes, humor, health, a connection to nature or the infitite, and so on. A depression and carelessness or hurtfulness can also come from physical problems like vitamin D deficiency, lack of Omega-3/DHA, lack of whole foods, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, and so on.

You can also have a practical morality, or one that emerges from local experience or upbringing, whether you have a belief in a specific god or gods. So, there are a lot of assumptions there... See Kai Nielsen:
    http://www.amazon.com/Ethics-Without-God-Kai-Nielsen/dp/0879755520 [amazon.com]

Or even Albert Einstein:
    http://www.sacred-texts.com/aor/einstein/einsci.htm [sacred-texts.com]
"For the scientific method can teach us nothing else beyond how facts are related to, and conditioned by, each other. The aspiration toward such objective knowledge belongs to the highest of which man is capabIe, and you will certainly not suspect me of wishing to belittle the achievements and the heroic efforts of man in this sphere. Yet it is equally clear that knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be. One can have the clearest and most complete knowledge of what is, and yet not be able to deduct from that what should be the goal of our human aspirations. Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source. And it is hardly necessary to argue for the view that our existence and our activity acquire meaning only by the setting up of such a goal and of corresponding values. The knowledge of truth as such is wonderful, but it is so little capable of acting as a guide that it cannot prove even the justification and the value of the aspiration toward that very knowledge of truth. Here we face, therefore, the limits of the purely rational conception of our existence.
    But it must not be assumed that intelligent thinking can play no part in the formation of the goal and of ethical judgments. When someone realizes that for the achievement of an end certain means would be useful, the means itself becomes thereby an end. Intelligence makes clear to us the interrelation of means and ends. But mere thinking cannot give us a sense of the ultimate and fundamental ends. To make clear these fundamental ends and valuations, and to set them fast in the emotional life of the individual, seems to me precisely the most important function which religion has to perform in the social life of man. And if one asks whence derives the authority of such fundamental ends, since they cannot be stated and justified merely by reason, one can only answer: they exist in a healthy society as powerful traditions, which act upon the conduct and aspirations and judgments of the individuals; they are there, that is, as something living, without its being necessary to find justification for their existence. They come into being not through demonstration but through revelation, through the medium of powerful personalities. One must not attempt to justify them, but rather to sense their nature simply and clearly. "

If this is an example of the logic .. (1)

fkx (453233) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148220)

If this line is an example of the Op's grasp on information and reason ...

  "and risk blindness from glaucoma because they don't use their eyedrops regularly"

you can forget about reading the rest of the post.

Re:If this is an example of the logic .. (1)

SemperUbi (673908) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148288)

The original poster was correct. Glaucoma causes high intraocular pressure, which if untreated will lead to vision loss and blindness. Medicated eyedrops will keep the intraocular pressure low and prevent blindness. Check it out. [nih.gov]

Re:If this is an example of the logic .. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148312)

i think what he's getting at is it's not PROCRASTINATION to not perform a task you might not perform to begin with

it's procrastination to put off a task that you know you must do.

or maybe i'm not reading it right... i havn't put in my eyedrops yet this morning

Re:If this is an example of the logic .. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148428)

Glaucoma causes high intraocular pressure, which if untreated will lead to vision loss and blindness. Medicated eyedrops will keep the intraocular pressure low and prevent blindness.

Marijuana also keeps intraocular pressure low, so California isn't against the legalization of Marijuana, they're just procrastinators.
 

Not sure why I'm bothering to reply (1)

presidenteloco (659168) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148226)

But regarding why we do anything at all...

It's just the way we are. We are here (survived evolution) because we do stuff.
i.e. We are animals with lots of sensors and information processing, so we
perceive and model the surrounding world, and move ourselves so we minimize
threats and maximize opportunities to gain survival-enhancing resources.

So it's built into us to do things rather than lie around.
What those things are doesn't particularly matter, as long as enough of us
are doing things that help them survive, so it continues.

Is there any higher purpose there? Probably not. It's just "I do therefore I am."
(In all possible senses of the words :)

Is there a direction to it all nonetheless? Well, humans' particular overall survival
strategy is "vertical" (increasing awareness of surroundings, increasingly complex action and the building of
increasingly pervasive, complex and functional self-sustaining artificial systems.)
rather than "horizontal" (multiply in the gazillions and support rapid physical evolution of biological form.)

So the direction is to increase our "chrono-gnostic horizon" (perception and understanding of events further
out in spacetime from our location) so we can do increasingly sophisticated and more far-reaching interventions
to tame a larger chunk of our environment and make it work toward our increased survival probability with lower
energy expenditure per unit of increase of survival probability. Yep that's about it. If that's not enough, tough.

eyedrops? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148244)

i'm supposed to be taking eyedrops?

Professor Mark Kingwell (1)

SpeedyDX (1014595) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148280)

Mark Kingwell was one of my philosophy professors at the University of Toronto. I admire his work and think that he is an amazing lecturer. He's published a lot of books on happiness and better living through a philosophical perspective.

He's in his late-40s I think, and he's pretty in touch with current issues. The article doesn't do him and his views enough justice. If you want to learn more about his views, there's a list of his books on his entry on Wikipedia [wikipedia.org].

For what it's worth, I think what he's trying to get at here is that we all try to assign some normative value to our actions and goals. But at some deeper level, we might believe that there really is no objective normative value to our actions, and that is reflected by our constant need to procrastinate. Of course, his view is much more nuanced than that and it's more ideal to read his books for the full story.

Why make it so complicated. (1)

lordmetroid (708723) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148314)

Could you simply not state the obvious, "People do not want to do boring shit"?

Re:Why make it so complicated. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148388)

Sometimes, when you really don't want to do something, you go write a whole book instead.

Outstanding. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148316)

I love this article. It makes me want to buy the New Yorker.

Re:Outstanding. (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148426)

Yes, but unfortunately you'll never get around to do it, because there are so many other things to do, like buying food, or reading Slashdot and answering to comments there. And what would be the point in buying it anyway if you never get around to actually read it?

Indeed, you probably wanted to create a Slashdot account for years, but always you went on Slashdot, you found a story you wanted to read, and then you had to comment, to answer comments, and finally you didn't have any time to create an account because you had to get to your next appointment, right?

Now, back to work! (0, Redundant)

Goglu (774689) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148330)

Thanks, this was a nice posting. Just took a couple of minutes to go through and read the comments.

It was a good break from work, and I guess I should soon go back to it... Wait, just one game of sudoku, and then I'll really start!

Tradeoffs (3, Insightful)

emt377 (610337) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148416)

I think most people would happily trade 10% of their salary for 10% more vacation (5 more weeks). We in the U.S. work way too much and live too little.

As for procrastination, unfortunately it often pays off in the workplace. If your boss asks for something to be done at deadline D and you know it takes T, then you do the prep work up front (like research the problem) but don't actually start on the specifics until D-T. Because quite often it turns out no longer to be needed, or before T arrives it's discovered something different is needed, so different that you would have to start over on the task-specific parts. Personally I hate having work on my plate and compulsively finish it up as soon as possible, but doing so isn't really in my own interest (in terms of ROI on my work).

And, like always, laziness is the mother of all invention. We harnessed animals so we wouldn't have to work ourselves, invented mills to save work of hand milling, etc etc. Basically we invent machines and smarter ways of doing things to save work. Unfortunately this is contradictory to the modern workplace where if you created a machine to do your work for you the employer would lay you off rather than continue paying you a salary for work done by your machine. More specifically, they'd buy your machine and RIF those now superfluous. It's why sysadmins automate tasks with scripts, even though if they do it well enough they might soon find themselves without work. Similarly an engineer who does the work of two and consistently delivers quality results early, without even appearing to work hard, may find management suspicious of whether their job warrants even one single full-time position. At least if management isn't technical enough to tell the difference.

Re:Tradeoffs (4, Funny)

u38cg (607297) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148458)

If you get five more weeks with 10% more vacation, I'll bid 89% of your current salary to do your job, because fifty weeks holiday a year still sounds pretty sweet to me.

Re:Tradeoffs (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148726)

If you get five more weeks with 10% more vacation, I'll bid 89% of your current salary to do your job, because fifty weeks holiday a year still sounds pretty sweet to me.

I would first ask about what his current salary is. Maybe it's a dollar per year.

Re:Tradeoffs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148774)

ooh a typo flame, how the hell is that worth +4 informative?

Re:Tradeoffs (1)

u38cg (607297) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148810)

It wasn't a flame, it was a gentle needle. We're supposed to have a grasp of basic numberistics here. And no, I don't get the informative mods either, but the ways of /. are subtle and quick to anger.

Re:Tradeoffs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148896)

I'd bid 88%, just so I could figure out how they managed to put 55 weeks in a year.

Re:Tradeoffs (0, Redundant)

obarel (670863) | more than 3 years ago | (#34149546)

It's not 10% of the time off he's getting, it's 10% of the time he's getting paid for.

Based on your calculation, if I work 100% less, I should expect 100% more days off (e.g. 28 instead of 14). That doesn't make any sense, so "Informative: 4" tells me that the people with karma points should pay more attention at school (less slashdot browsing, more homework).

Re:Tradeoffs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34149638)

How about not trading the 10% pay cut and still getting a reasonable number of days off per year?

Over in Germany you get 21 paid vacation days per year by law. All companies I have ever worked for in Germany give you 30 days of paid vacation. I think that is totally reasonable and 10 days seems waaay too low for me too. However, there's no pay cut for the extra 9 vacation days. None.

Pay your bills on time. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148490)

Don't you get upset when people don't pay you on time?

procrastinating until the last responsible moment (1)

wigger (252561) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148520)

procrastinating until the last responsible moment can require discipline but it helps ensure you are making the most informed, wisest decision.

sometimes people are unable to see the difference between reflection, consideration and procrastination, which can make this technique difficult to apply in some situations.

Thinking before doing (1)

Mandrel (765308) | more than 3 years ago | (#34149168)

Yes, often the most efficient way to get a task done well is to let it percolate for some time in your mind, until the best approach pops out. For those contracting by the hour, this means that the real work is often done off the clock, which isn't really fair.

If you need a good solution right now, the best approach is usually to spend some time thinking about it first, which may look like staring off to space. Again, it's hard to keep a billing clock running while doing this, if only for the feeling of being under the gun. Conversely, in an office environment, bad bosses may assume that someone isn't working if they aren't typing.

Planning (2, Insightful)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148550)

You take all of your long-term projects, break them down into atomic tasks and allocate time resources to each. However, you have to plan for the unanticipated, high priority tasks that arise short term. So you leave openings in your schedule to accommodate some number of these. But, there are times when such emergencies do not arise. You can keep some low priority tasks to fill in, or you can slide to high priority stuff forward.

Do the low priority stuff and let the boss see you doing it. The question is then, "Why are you doing this bullshit when my project is due next month?" "Because I have already allocated sufficient resources to complete said project", I think to myself. But PHB doesn't like that kind reasoning. He wants to see nothing but assholes and elbows dedicated to his priorities.

Slide the high priority stuff up and risk completing it early. Then the boss questions why you asked for a month on the last one and trims two weeks off your next estimate. And then the panic jobs arrive.

Either way, you're screwed. Procrastination is just a reaction against such scheduling conflicts and a means to keep a bit of flexibility in your planning. As long as PHB thinks its a psychological problem, you can get away with it (or fake a nervous breakdown and get some vacation time in the form of long term disability leave).

In Search of Stress (3, Interesting)

anorlunda (311253) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148574)

I used to deliberately procrastinate on all coding jobs. That is because I found that I performed best under the stress of an approaching deadline. It forces you to totally focus on the job. In those circumstances, I was most creative, and productive, and made the fewest errors.

I believe that's why programmers have always loved all nighters. Programs conceived, designed, implemented, and tested in a single unbroken session are far more cohesive than any others.

I say all this in the past tense. Eventually I burned out when the stress overwhelmed me. Now I'm retired to a cruising sailboat and the closest thing to a deadline I see is the approaching change of season.

Re:In Search of Stress (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34151596)

I believe that's why programmers have always loved all nighters. Programs conceived, designed, implemented, and tested in a single unbroken session are far more cohesive than any others.

That breaks down when the program is to big to fit in a single all nighter

Re:In Search of Stress (2, Insightful)

KingAlanI (1270538) | more than 3 years ago | (#34152444)

I often hit my stride as the deadline gets closer, but sometimes the deadline's close enough that I still don't have time even working at the accelerated pace.

Nietzsche? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148760)

Sounds as though the Gamer and the Philosopher skipped Nietzsche. Or are still procrastinating reading him....

To do or not to do? (1)

Suffering Bastard (194752) | more than 3 years ago | (#34149170)

I regard the answer to the question "is anything worth doing at all?" as the answer to the question "what do you enjoy?". If it feels good, brings pleasure, excites you, makes you feel good about yourself, then please do it. If it's boring, tedious, unpleasant, turns your stomach, then please do not do it -- unless, of course, by not doing it something far more unpleasant will result.

Our brains give us the ability to make reasonable predictions about what might happen if we do or do not take action. At the same time, life is very good at throwing unanticipated curve balls that muck up the entire plan we had in mind. Have you noticed, though, how often things turn out for the better when they don't happen as planned?

Life is really quite simple. We humans just make things complicated because we're addicted to drama. Live, love, laugh, play as much as possible. Life gives us enough challenges, we don't need to keep making up our own.

Thanks for the soapbox loan. :::steps off::: who's next?

I am expert on procastination (2, Funny)

$0.02 (618911) | more than 3 years ago | (#34150662)

I have so much experience in procrastinating. I am going to write a book about it. One day..

Avoiding procrastination (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34151062)

This might help:
http://antiprocrastinator.com/

The Time Paradox (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 3 years ago | (#34151354)

A great related book: http://www.thetimeparadox.com/ [thetimeparadox.com]
"Welcome to The Time Paradox, a new book by Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd.
The Time Paradox is not a single paradox but a series of paradoxes that shape our lives and our destinies. For example:
* Paradox 1: Time is one of the most powerful influences on our thoughts, feelings, and actions, yet we are usually totally unaware of the effect of time in our lives.
* Paradox 2: Each specific attitude toward time--or time perspective--is associated with numerous benefits, yet in excess each is associated with even greater costs.
* Paradox 3: Individual attitudes toward time are learned through personal experience, yet collectively attitudes toward time influence national destinies."

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