Procrastination Is Not Laziness

I’m sympathetic to but ultimately must disagree with Seth Stevenson’s take on procrastination, a topic I sadly know a great deal about.

Why did I subject myself to so much stress, instead of starting my work earlier like “normal” people do? Well, you’ve no doubt heard all manner of theories regarding the root cause of procrastination. Fear of failure. Crippling perfectionism. Abnormally low type-2 phloxiplaxitus levels.

I’m here to tell you that it was none of these things. The root cause of my procrastination, in technical terms, is this: I’m lazy. Extremely lazy.

Don’t judge, pal—you’re lazy, too. It’s why you procrastinate. When there’s a difficult, disagreeable, or tedious chore that needs to get done, guess what? You don’t want to do it. So you don’t. Until you have to.

It’s just that simple, my slothful friend.

I’m sure I procrastinate as much as Stevenson, but the thing is, I’m not lazy! I am in fact super-industrious. It’s just that I am always motivated to do something other than the thing that most needs to be done. Stevenson mentions Da Vinci was a flaky, distractable procrastinator. OK.  But lazy? That’s retarded. Doing something else is not laziness; it’s misdirected industriousness.

No discussion of procrastination is complete with John Perry’s now-classic essay “Structured Procrastination.” You can even buy a “I’m not wasting time, I’m a structured procrastinator  t-shirt!”

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center