I often wonder how my life would be different if there were no Free Cell. For you non-procrastinators unfamiliar with it, Free Cell is a type of solitaire, and one of many ways one can put off doing actual work on one’s home computer. (Normally, you don’t find Free Cell on business computers because of the effect it would have on the Gross National Product.)
While it may be one of the most effective methods of delaying work, Free Cell is certainly not the only one. And on January 1, I resolved to cut back on procrastination. Now I am finally getting around to writing about it.
First, let’s review some of the time-honored maxims about avoiding procrastination.
1: Eat the elephant in small bites. The elephant is, of course, a low-carb, high-protein metaphor for a project so large that one does not know where to begin. When one does not know where to begin, one does not begin. One plays Free Cell. Or reads her spam. Or eats Spam. In small bites.
Meanwhile the elephant grows larger. No one can swallow an entire elephant in one gulp, nor would anyone want to. That’s why one should divide the project into small tasks or, to put it another way, chop the elephant into bite-size morsels. While this should make your project more manageable, it won’t necessarily make the elephant taste any better.
2. Eat your frog the first thing in the morning. The frog, of course, symbolizes those tasks so unpleasant that you simply cannot bring yourself to do them. Unfortunately, frogs left uneaten have a way of metamorphosing into large distasteful elephants while you’re watching MASH reruns. That is why you must summon your courage first thing in the morning and force yourself to swallow the darn thing and get it over with. This will leave you energized and motivated to do other less abhorrent projects—or play a rousing game of solitaire.
3. To misuse another time management axiom, make hay while the sun is shining. Pay attention to your peak times. Some people are morning people; some people are night people. I’m a person for a short time every day around suppertime. I try to avoid spending my precious peak time daydreaming or twiddling my thumbs; I have my other 15 hours of non-peak, non-sleep time to do that.
While I recommend you add elephants, frogs, and hay to your diet, I do not believe you should give up procrastination entirely. Instead, I suggest you practice what I call the Art of Selective Procrastination. Consider the following:
If you delay your Christmas shopping until December 23, you won’t forget where you put the gifts. Or that you bought them.
If you wait to buy your Halloween candy until the afternoon of October 31, you won’t have to buy more to replace all that you ate.
If you regularly delay grocery shopping, you’ll get to eat out more.
If you wait long enough, your family will eventually take all of the clean, unfolded laundry out of the laundry basket, making folding and putting away completely unnecessary.
If you wait long enough to shovel snow next winter, eventually it will melt. It always does.
If you put off raking your leaves, the autumn winds will blow them into your neighbors’ yards. But be aware that if your neighbors procrastinate like you do, you’ll get them back when the winds change.
And if you put off making hay and eating your frogs and elephants, you’ll have a lot more time to play Free Cell.
(Dorothy Rosby is the author of three books of humorous essays including Alexa’s a Spy and Other Things to Be Ticked off About, Humorous Essays on the Hassles of Our Time. Contact [email protected]).
The secret art of selective procrastination