Structured Procrastination

At last, someone has identified and analyzed structured procrastination [HT: David Field].

I have often confessed to people that sloth is my besetting sin and have been met with disbelief. Some people think that I might be fishing for compliments; others think that I do far too much to suffer from such a vice. However, I am quite serious in claiming to be slothful. All too often my periods of greatest productivity are cloaks for my avoidance of what I know that I ought to do, or result from the slothfulness that has held me back from devoting time to thinking carefully about what I really ought to do.

Looking back over the last few months on my blog bears this out. The periods of greatest productivity have almost invariably been during periods of time when I was avoiding important university work. Whilst I have not given thought to structuring my procrastination, it has been semi-consciously structured in a way that has proved helpful in a number of respects. Ironically, in my case structured procrastination has often resulted in greater achievement than focusing on the goals that I was trying to avoid would have resulted in.

For example, I have read widely over the past few years in part because I found the reading that I was set so boring and predictable. If my reading had been as focused as it was expected to be, I am convinced that I would be a far poorer person. I have only rarely given anywhere near the same effort to my appointed studies as I have to my own independent studies. In fact, much of the reading that I did as a means of procrastination is now applicable to modules that I have to take, giving me room to procrastinate even more.

Nevertheless, I am not about to make structured procrastination into a virtue. Whilst I can achieve greater productivity by pursuing certain activities as a means of avoiding certain set goals, I know that my periods of peak productivity have come when I have given careful attention to my goals and pursued the best ones diligently. Last year I was able to do more theology reading whilst in full time work than I have done during a year of a full time theology degree.

Often the goals that we are set by others are poor ones and need to be relativized in order to allow us to pursue greater ends. Certain patterns of procrastination can occasionally accomplish this in a serendipitous manner; structured procrastination in a slightly more knowing manner. However, I remain convinced that the best and most satisfying way to do this is to diligently examine and question the goals that we are aiming for. The diligent approach is by far the most fulfilling approach in the final analysis.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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3 Responses to Structured Procrastination

  1. Jon says:

    It’s true… Sometimes Al misses lectures… But then… How would I know? I’m skipping the same ones…

  2. Peter says:

    Sounds like structured procrastination is about as effective as morphine to combat drug addiction…
    Yeah, I’ll second the whole Ally wastes time thing. Only I’ll add that he also has very few hobbies, he always just wants to watch a film, play Settlers of Catan, or gamble in some Christian way without using hard cash.
    But who am I to talk? Aphtur awl, I’m a genuine, bona fide waster with no way of managing it. I mean, slothfulness may be Ally’s besetting sin, but you can tell it is mine. Just look at my blog.
    And I’m supposed to be revising at the moment. I mean the moment in a general sense. Because in the exact sense, it is currently Sunday, and there’s no way I’d be revising. I seriously doubt I’ll get any done in a hurry though. On the other hand, I will get a lot better at the guitar…

  3. Wesley says:

    Alastair, I have only been reading your blog for a few months and have been amazed at your brillance and humility existing together. This is rare. I am praying for you to best use the ability God has given you. Hopefully the trip to China will be a needed rest.

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