Setting Your Stall Out

I was meant to start this blog about procrastination weeks ago, but I kept putting it off.

That is not only absolutely true, but a fine example of both irony and hypocrisy. Someone with a record of dithering is not really in the best position to lecture others about the virtues of proactivity. Nevertheless, in the words immortalised by the question master of the famous BBC quiz show Mastermind, ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’. Eventually. Probably.

I took Latin at ‘A’ level – a decision which has raised many an eyebrow over the years, but one which I have never regretted. It has often enabled me quickly to work out the meaning of an unfamiliar English word. For example, ‘recalcitrant’ – describing someone who rebels against authority – is made up of the prefix ‘re’ (back) and ‘calceus’ (boot); and ‘insidious’ – an adjective meaning deceitful – comes from ‘insidiae’ (ambush), and the suffix ‘ous’ (full of).

I had already been studying Latin for some years when the word ‘procrastination’ first reared its ugly head, and it was a piece of cake to work out the meaning, from ‘pro’ (in favour of) and ‘cras’ (tomorrow).

I don’t suppose being in favour of tomorrow is negative per se. In fact, it sounds like the sort of progressive slogan a political party might happily emblazon on its literature. And any mention of the well-known Mediterranean version – ‘mañana’ – tends to evoke nothing more than an amused and indulgent acceptance of a regional characteristic. And who doesn’t identify with the eponymous orphan in the musical Annie belting out ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow/ You’re always a day away’.

In short, there is a lot about tomorrow which is very attractive to homo sapiens. And therein lies the problem. It is almost as if procrastination is our guilty pleasure. The Scots have more than 400 words to evoke various types of snow, and the Greeks famously have over 50 words to catalogue different types of love. But there is Anglophone competition when it comes to describing putting something off: ‘kicking the can down the road’; ‘kicking the ball into the long grass’; ‘playing for time’; ‘dilly-dallying’; ‘dragging one’s heels’; ‘shilly-shallying’; ‘letting things slide’. I would list some more, but I’m just off for a cup of tea and a biscuit to reward myself for this blog so far.

And delaying tactics can sometimes work out for the best. For example, when my daughters were at university, they were both incapable of writing assignments without the pressure of a looming deadline. When the chips were down, they produced their best work, often by pulling an all-nighter.

But for every expression to describe the act of stalling, there is another extolling the virtue of getting on with things: ‘don’t let the grass grow under your feet’; ‘a stitch in time saves nine’; ‘procrastination is the thief of time’; ‘carpe diem (seize the day)’; ‘one of these days is none of these days’. And the truth is that, despite the understandable seductiveness and tittering complicity of the idea of dawdling, we all know in our heart of hearts that continued delay is only storing up trouble for the future.

So, as we approach the season of New Year’s resolutions, let each of us respond to this rallying call, and make the effort to execute all our chores – professional, academic, domestic and personal – at the very earliest opportunity! After a cup of tea. And a biscuit.

What’s the best way to fight procrastination? Let’s find out in the following lesson!

Rory Mulvihill, LOS Consultant