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The dictionary offers up a number of suitable definitions for procrastination…

delay, put off, postpone, defer, be dilatory, use delaying tactics, stall, temporise, play for time, hesitate, vacillate, dither, be indecisive, be undecided, waver

Simply put, procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task which needs to be accomplished. We’ve all been there. How often have we put off impending tasks in favour of a plethora of less urgent ones. I even found myself splicing rope this morning, just to delay the inevitable. I mean, splicing rope for Christ’s sake…that’s taking temporising to a whole new level!

3159417For some, procrastination can be persistent and tremendously disruptive and has been linked to depression, low self-esteem and anxiety. For others it is just an irritating deviation from life’s more worthy endeavours. For me, it is an excuse to do the ironing and splice some rope. However, it can be a troublesome vice, especially if deadlines are an all to regular feature of your daily life.

There’s nothing I hate more than an open-ended deadline…it just generates the urgent need to alphabetise the CD collection and sort out the sock drawer.

The good news is that we are not alone. It would seem that procrastination is something that has been embraced by some of history’s most able individuals. Far from it being the bane of the work-shy and the indecisive, it has in fact found favour with some notable figures from the world of art, politics and literature.

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Leonardo da Vinci was a serial procrastinator. The genius of the Italian Renaissance was renowned as a daydreamer by his contemporaries. The man who painted The Virgin in the Rocks and The Last Supper, and explored almost every field available to him in both the arts and sciences, never finished a single project on time. It took him 16 years to finally get around to finishing the enigmatic portrait of La Gioconda (Mona Lisa) and the Last Supper was only completed when his patron, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, threatened to cut off his funding. In later years he is said to have regretted his lack of artistic fervour, even appealing to God at the end. He did leave us with a wealth of timeless masterpieces and sketches though, along with the all to apt words “It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end”.

Another of life’s great procrastinators was the author, Douglas Adams, who famously quipped, “I love deadlines…I like the whooshing sound they make as they go by”. It was said that he had managed raise the art of procrastination to a whole new level and, in spite of producing a number of iconic novels, apparently hated writing. It would seem that copious amounts of tea, long baths and days in bed were Mr Adams’ particular preference to avoiding putting pen to paper. Publishers and editors had to lock him in rooms and glower at him to elicit the finished manuscripts. He worked on his last novel, ‘The Salmon of Doubt’, for ten years and at the time of his fatal heart attack in 2001 he still hadn’t finished the first draft.

don__t_panic_by_lefrbApparently Samuel Johnson, probably one of the greatest writers of his age, once wrote a piece on procrastination that he took so long in getting around to starting that he finished it whilst the errand boy was waiting outside to take it to press. And Samuel Taylor Coleridge, creator of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan was, by all accounts, one of the most infamous procrastinators of all time. Addicted to Opium, his life was once described as “…a never-ending squalor of procrastination, excuses, lies, debts, degradation and failure”.

Suddenly I am feeling a whole lot better!

Even ex US President Bill Clinton was considered a chronic procrastinator and was once described by Vice President, Al Gore, as “punctually challenged”. The French poet and novelist, Victor Hugo meanwhile hit upon the unique idea of staving off procrastination by having his servant strip him naked and not return his clothes until he had laboured sufficiently to earn them back, whilst Herman Melville had his wife chain him to a desk as he struggled to finish ‘Moby Dick’.

And it goes on…

The great American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright designed his most famous house in two hours, when his client phoned him to say he was coming over to see the plans. Apparently Wright calmly finished his breakfast and, in the time that it took his client to drive from Pittsburgh, produced the plans for Fallingwater, a house that today is listed as a National Historic Monument and considered one of the top places in the United States to visit before you die. Even some of Hunter S. Thompson’s most famous work began as mere procrastination. The wild exuberance of his gonzo style of journalism actually came about because he hadn’t actually written up the article that he had been commissioned to do. In an act of sheer panic, or inspired genius, he began tearing out pages from his notebook and sent them off to press with the courier who was waiting at his hotel room door. The critics loved it.

And what of Hamlet, the procrastinating Prince of Denmark? Given the simple task of avenging his father’s murder, he then proceeds to spend the next four and a half hours dithering and wavering to the point of exasperation. By the time he finally does get around to slaying Claudius, his indecisive ramblings have led to the suicide of his beloved Ophelia, the unfortunate stabbing of Polonius, the death of his own mother and the demise of Ophelia’s brother…not to mention the poor saps, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. If ever a man gave procrastination a bad name, it is surely the dillydallying Dane.

hamlet2Anyway, I have procrastinated long enough. I have things to do.

…Now, where did I put that rope?…