In the introductory part of this series, I discussed how standardization has permeated all walks of life (even places where it is detrimental) and built a neat productivity trap around us.
In Productivity Trap (Part 1), I discussed how the mad rush for improving Productivity, an industrial concept applied to machines, is now being applied on human beings.
In Productivity Trap (Part 2), I disappointed a few who came looking for solutions and tips. I distinguished between the jobs that look bad but could be good and those that look good but could be bad.
This post is to convince you of the value of procrastination.
Procrastination as a bad habit
the action of delaying or postponing something.
"your first tip is to avoid procrastination"
A majority of Ted-Talks, articles, books, and content available labels procrastination as as harmful. Take, for example, the famous ted-talk by Tim Urban, which starts by
Hypothesizing why we procrastinate - Tim Urban gives a story about our brain that the audience can understand, ideally leveraging the cognitive biases of the audience.
Declaring procrastination as bad.
“These people were writing with intense frustration about what procrastination had done to their lives, about what this Monkey had done to them. And I thought about this, and I said, well, if the procrastinator's system works, then what's going on? Why are all of these people in such a dark place?”
Doling out some generic advice
“We need to think about what we're procrastinating on because everyone is procrastinating on something in life. We need to stay aware of the Instant Gratification Monkey. That's a job for all of us. And because there are not that many boxes on there, it's a job that should probably start today.”
Notice the advice on “stay aware” and making it a job. The best way to make people run away from awareness is to make it a job.
Labeling procrastination bad is the same as labeling productivity good. It is preposterous, however, to propose solutions/steps to reduce procrastination. It indicates not only low understanding but also hubris.
Procrastination - An Observation
"Not everything that happens happens for a reason, but everything that survives survives for a reason." - Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Irrespective of where we stand on the procrastination debate, we can all agree that procrastination continues to exist.Survival of procrastination tells us that it is certainly more potent than our efforts to reduce it. Procrastination has survived all those school timetables, scolding from parents, pressure from peers: parents' scolding, peer pressure, remarks from teachers, bosses, and colleagues. It has survived ted-talks, millions of self-help books, productivity coaches, threats, and motivations. It has survived centuries and millennia. Yet, instead of acknowledging failures, people jump on the next shiny solution to conquer procrastination.
Brain is mightier than the Research about the Brain
Our species has survived. Our brain has survived. It has evolved for about 300 million years to be what it is today. Our research about our brains habits is still growing. That means that instead of getting fawned by research, a majority of which is faulty and consists of wrong maths and statistics, we must accept that our brain is uber-powerful against all the hacks.
Thus, instead of putting our brains in some correction facility, we must realize that no correction is needed. Procrastination is our brain’s behavior, which has survived for specific reasons. If we don’t understand the reasons, doesn’t mean that the reasons don’t exist. Instead of lamenting about the behavior, we must gather the information it provides us.
People have to consume many books, talks, and motivational videos to be productive for two weeks (or become a life-long machine). Procrastination, however, comes easily to everyone. I have never spent a minute learning how to procrastinate and if you haven’t been diseased yet, the same might be true for you.
When it comes to procrastination, we are born Pro. We exactly know how to avoid paying the electricity bill and pass it on to a younger sibling. We have devised ingenious ways to deceive teachers and unsuspecting professors. We consistently avoid reading boring textbooks and finishing boring homework. We exactly know how to avoid the work we don’t want to do while keeping the bosses happy. We know how to tell smooth lies when we are guilty of procrastination. No one has taught us, and everyone has told us how bad it is to procrastinate. Yet somehow, it just comes naturally to us. We also have invented ways to rationalize procrastination and remove guilt.
I have been on the dark side of this comedy, where I admired people who are on a treadmill every evening (literally going nowhere) for exactly 27 min and 50 seconds before they bounce off to consume some faint tasting goo instead of freshly cooked tasty and warm food. The top of the productivity pyramid, my 2-weeks every few months, is this dreary place, inhabited by people who take themselves too seriously. I once lusted for a productive life.
My stubborn brain had different ideas. However, instead of accepting its nature, I cursed myself for being inconsistent, indisciplined, and other negative words with in- prefix.
Learning to Procrastinate OR Unlearning Productivity
“If you get easily bored, it means that your BS detector is functioning properly; if you forget (some) things, it means that your mind knows how to filter; and if you feel sadness, it means that you are human.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb
One of the best 4-month periods of my life, other than the summer vacations, I spent in Boston. Without a job, my days had no appointments. They involved long walks, participation in paid behavioral studies, reading Nassim Taleb’s Incerto 3-4 times, sleeping without alarms, cooking, eating, sitting in parks, playing football, board games, cards, and meeting interesting people with exciting lives. This is a subconscious way became a blueprint.
Procrastination/Avoidance I experienced and read later is the surest indicator of dislike. I noticed that dislike often doubles/triples the mental energy. Avoidance thus is a path of least resistance. Please resist the urge to drone the boring “sometimes you have to do what you don’t like” advice. No one minds ‘some.’ The problem is that we have smoothly replaced ‘some’ with ‘every.’
Procrastination gives you golden data on what you don’t like. If you apply via Negativa - to identify what you like, identify what you don’t like, and minimize/eliminate it - you will move towards an empty calendar, the surest sign of independence.
Indicator: You feel reluctant to go to a party. I’d say don’t go.
Indicator: You feel reluctant to participate in a conversation. Don’t participate.
Indicator: You feel tired. Chill a little.
Indicator: You feel bored/sleepy. Sleep with nonchalance. Yawn to tell the speaker that you are utterly bored. Many in the audience might thank you.
Indicator: You haven’t touched a project/plan/book/topic/research/workstream in a few weeks. Scrap it. Change it. Don’t sit and ask why. Just run away.
Indicator: You feel something is blah. Feel it with pride. You’ve got taste.
Indicator: There is inertia. Let it be.
Once you start seeing these patterns, you start leveraging the beautiful sortation abilities of your brain. It has evolved to identify and avoid the bullshit automatically. It can even sense an impending occurrence of a boring event.
The brain is an extremely well-tuned, evolved, and expert bullshit detector. I get palpitations when I am in the proximity of a treadmill or near the person who has just gotten off it and still has the earbuds on (with serious looks on their face). The definition of ‘bullshit’ is extremely individual, and yet our schedules and calendars often look precisely similar - tragic comedy.
Children, if you observe, have a very well-oiled BS detecting device. Children exactly know what they enjoy, when they enjoy, who they enjoy with, and how much they enjoy. They avoid the rest. No doubt they are more creative than most adults. Then we send them to school. I often feel that adults send children to school just out of pure envy. Be like us! Productive! I also wonder how can someone madly in love with Productivity create schools that are fun and creative.
Once you have acres of space on your calendar, DO NOT begin exploring ideas on social media. Being on Social Media, I recently realized, is like being at a party 24x7. I associate most parties as a place where almost 100% of your mind is devoted to managing perceptions (read as impress people). As in all parties, a few dominate, and the rest aspire to dominate one day.
That is the only DO NOT.
The only DO? Read good books.
Books follow Lindy - The Lindy Effect is the idea that the older something is, the longer it’s likely to be around in the future. For example, The Count of Monte Cristo was published in 1846 and is still in print. AND it has an enormously high chance to be still in the publication than say a few million business books. Books propagate ideas. Thus,, if the book is Lindy, its ideas are Lindy too and would continue to be true. Regardless of the state of technology, every generation, found the ideas valuable and passed on the book to the next. Read good books.
Once your mind is at rest, follow as many curiosities as there are under constraints of sustainability. This time though, you won’t be under any pressure of being consistent with anything. Let fun be your guide.
No Moral Judgment
If you get irritated by jokes about productive people, it is a sign that you are one of them. I also have a job, and the joke is on me first. Procrastination and Productivity are two ends of the scale, and we all are somewhere in the middle. The primary metric is happiness. I have shared what I have found helpful in my own life. It has worked, and some of it is precisely the opposite of what I was taught conventionally.
"The main difference between Mediterraneans and non-Meds: Farniente (doing nothing) is active for a Mediterranean" - Nassim Nicholas Taleb #farniente
We don’t need books or ted-talks or this blog to convince you of procrastination. Procrastination is Lindy. Procrastination has survived in spite of talks and a billion-dollar industry trying to shoo it away. Procrastination isn’t new. Cultures and religions worldwide have built rituals and traditions to make people relax, connect, and let it be. Our ancestors understood the tendency of our minds to wander. Instead of tying it up (which you can’t), they learned to harness its power. For example, afternoon naps (siestas) are still extremely common in Pune and parts of Bangalore. According to Wikipedia, “Siestas (naps) are historically common throughout the Mediterranean and southern Europe, the Middle East, mainland China, and the Indian subcontinent.” There are words in our languages that promote procastination. For example, “a flâneur is an ambivalent figure of urban affluence and modernity, representing the ability to wander detached from society with no other purpose than to be an acute observer of industrialized, contemporary life.”
But of course there are Ted-Talks circling supporting procrastination. One expectedly by Andy Puddicombe, the founder of Headspace.
“Puddicombe offers meditation as a scientifically proven solution to this. Spending 10 minutes a day effectively doing nothing but looking after our minds can positively impact our whole life.”
There is no need for scientific ‘proofs’. Survival is the proof! Meditation, people often believe, is about developing focus. Instead it is about having fun, observing the wandering of the mind, while Doing Nothing!
Thank you for reading!