Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Good Procrastination

In general, procrastination isn't a desirable thing. But within the sphere of procrastination are two distinct types which we can label good and bad. The bad kind is the kind most often derided by world + dog: the person is typically a student, and always procrastinates assignments, thus they never get done on time (if at all) and the student barely manages to pass (if at all). Also, and this is an important note, the activities the student chooses to do instead of the schoolwork typically fall under something mindless like watch T.V., play endless video games, and in general do things requiring little attention span or intellectual power.

I now introduce the good kind of procrastination. The first half of it can be the same as the first half of bad procrastination--barely making it through school--but the ideal is getting A's, and the way a good procrastinator does this is knowing exactly how long they can procrastinate something and still get it done. Basically, putting it off until precisely the last minute. I'm pretty good at this, though I do slip up every so often, but a simple example from High School was me always doing my French homework during the period right before French. Sometimes I'd have more French to do than usual, in which case I'd usually just start two periods before French, but it was very rare for me to do French homework at a non-procrastinating time (like the night before around 7pm). I nevertheless did well in the class, and my assignments were for the most part correct. In Chemistry, I barely managed to do even some of the assignments, and that ended up hurting my grade (because homework was worth so much) that I didn't pass the class by a huge margin. I'd try doing some of the assignments during lunch before the class, but more often than not the assignments required more time than that, and frankly I didn't see it as worth it.

The other half of good procrastination, more important than the first half, is what you choose to do in place of what you're supposed to be doing. Quoting myself:

Procrastination really helps me get things done.

I should clarify and say good procrastination. The things I get done by procrastinating school work can be any of the following: programming this blog, programming video games, reading about rationality, reading about philosophy, reading about math, reading about programming, reading about physics, cleaning, showering, cooking, eating, and sometimes playing video games and building relationships. What all of those have in common is that they're useful to some extent. The bad procrastinator watches all three Lord of the Rings movies--the good procrastinator might watch one, and then spend the other 6 hours reading Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. The really bad procrastinator watches the movies, then sleeps for two hours before class starts, and doesn't finish the homework. The really good procrastinator watches the movie, reads the book, then spends exactly an hour and 45 minutes on the assignment, which is what he predicted he'd need to spend to finish, and turns it in to receive full credit.

Doing intellectual things isn't necessary to be a good procrastinator: I mentioned cleaning. All that matters is that it's relatively useful. Watching a bunch of movies isn't really useful (unless they're edumacational movies), nor is playing endless video games even if they're all different puzzle and strategy types.

I've had varied success trying to apply this to actual school work. My thinking goes like this: subject A is more important than subject B, but I really don't want to do subject A. So I'll just procrastinate it and do subject B instead, and if I plan right I can do A just before class. My success on this is varied though because my brain knows I really want to procrastinate all school work, not just bits and pieces of it, and so typically what I do instead is not school work.

Let's recap: procrastination can fall into four groups.
  1. Good Procrastination: Do something useful instead of that which is being procrastinated.
  2. Bad Procrastination: Do something useless or of very minimal use instead of that which is being procrastinated.
  3. Really Good Procrastination: Good Procrastination, but also gets that which is being procrastinated done eventually and with respectable results. ("C+" or higher assignments done at the precisely last possible moment.)
  4. Really Bad Procrastination: Bad Procrastination, but also never does that which is being procrastinated. ("F" or unacceptable or didn't-even-start assignments.)

What group are you in? Or are you part of the other two rarer groups of doing useless things and getting A's, or doing useful things and failing? How consistent to one category are you? (I think most procrastinators have been all of these types at some point.) I shoot for the Really Good Procrastination of course, and so far I've been fairly consistent.

Posted on 2009-10-22 by Jach

Tags: philosophy, school


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Jach October 22, 2009 04:13:30 AM Oh yeah, and of course writing blog entries is one of the things I do when procrastinating school work.

And using the comment form when procrastinating adding an edit button.
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