J. Wellington Wimpy on Structured Procrastination

Do you remember the Popeye cartoons where his friend J. Wellington Wimpy would say, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Some may feel Wimpy was too cheap to pay for a burger so he’d con others to buy it for him. As someone who tends to be a little more trusting of others, I’d rather believe that Wimpy was a procrastinator. He’s going to pay you back, but why do it today when he can do it in a few days? Maybe I’m naive or maybe I believe in the power of procrastination.

Before I defend the idea of procrastination, I’d like to give a quick disclaimer to my kids – this does not apply to you. You don’t have free rein to put off your chores or prolong a homework deadline so you can watch another episode of Girl Meets World. After all, there is a difference between wasting time and practicing structured procrastination.

As described in John Perry’s book The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing,

Procrastination means not doing what you’re supposed to be doing…Structured procrastination means you don’t waste your time. When you’re avoiding another task, you do something else instead.

For instance, when avoiding a task, procrastination dictates you check twitter for “important” updates. Structured procrastination, on the other hand, suggests you work on a different item on your to-do list. Sure, you are still putting off something that needs to be done, but you are being productive, thus using your time wisely.

The mistake, John argues, is that we minimize our responsibilities in an attempt to stop procrastinating.

It destroys [the] most important source of motivation. If you only have one thing to do, you won’t get anything else done — you’ll probably just lie on the couch to avoid it.

If you’re anything like me, you get more done when you have more to do. If I have one assignment, it may take me a week. If I five, it’ll also take me a week. That is the basis behind structured procrastination; we are more efficient when we are accomplishing multiple tasks. The competing demands breaks up the monotony. It divides our attention and keeps us fresh.

I can’t speak towards Wimpy’s motivation. Maybe he’ll pay you later because he has a full agenda of high priority items. Or maybe he doesn’t want to interrupt his train of thought as he solves a complex equation. Either way, he’s going to pay you on Tuesday.