“I have no Facebook! Why the **** am I still procrastinating?” I had just spent my evening reading an endless stream of articles about Jeremy Lin, marveling at how somebody could go from the NBA’s version of a garbage dump — the D league — to an international superstar in little over a week. Meanwhile my Java and Ancient Philosophy sat waiting.
When I relegated my Facebook to the cyber netherworld a few months ago, I thought I had finally defeated the scourge of a student’s life: Procrastination. Facebook was a huge time sink. By quitting it I was done spending hours semi-unconsciously trolling through friends’ profiles making sure they weren’t doing anything cooler than I was, done checking photos of ex-girlfriends and cool girls I had just met to see if they were with some better looking and generally more awesome guy, done with posting “Happy Birthday!” on people’s walls as if I genuinely cared about their lives. Eliminating such vapid and contrived social interactions should save a lot of time to be productive, right? Wrong.
Instead I found myself on the New York Times, YouTube and –— unsurprisingly, given my incurable addiction to Sportscenter highlight reels — ESPN. Or else I would catch myself staring off into space, thinking about how I’m in my last few months at college, how I’ll soon be an “officially educated,” supposedly fully functioning member of society who also happens to be a genius in the cheap art of finding ways to avoid working. I will also, incidentally, be quite practiced at beating myself up over how much work I don’t get done — it is, in fact, one of the ways I don’t get much work done.
Which brings me to the question: Is procrastination the problem or is it how I view procrastination that should change? A constant desire to be more productive, more efficient, more focused, more grounded colors my life. And I’m pretty sure it colors many people’s lives — especially here at Cornell where the A-types rule supreme. The feeling serves as a background for each semester: “Why can’t I be more efficient? Why does it take me all night to write a five-page paper? Surely everyone else is way more productive and on top of their work than I am.” Translation: “I need to be more like a robot who can churn out assignment after assignment with no breaks, no time wasted on random sites, no other desires except that of finishing its work.”
An exaggeration perhaps, and I will certainly admit that always having a sense that more work should be done conceivably makes us more focused. But such an attitude also comes with an inherent and pernicious sense of inadequacy, which is not only unhelpful but unhealthy. It is as if we’re never quite good enough. Even after an objectively productive day, when I actually do my Java assignment and Ancient Philosophy reading instead of losing myself in Linsanity, I feel like I should have done more. Or, at least, I wish that I was always so productive.
Our love affair with productivity needs to end. Not only do we never fulfill its expectations but we berate ourselves because we can’t and everybody else obviously can. We need, instead, to reacquaint ourselves with some of the joys of procrastination. And I don’t mean that we need to procrastinate more. Rather, we need to look at it differently.
There are, I believe, two important steps we can take. The first is to stop assuming that others are being more productive than we are. Even if everyone seems more focused, busier, more productive than you, you cannot conclude they actually are. It’s rare you get people to admit what they’re like outside of the library or class but chances are they love 30 Rock, Modern Family and Portlandia — or some slightly trashier equivalents — just as much as you do.
Perhaps that doesn’t convince you. Perhaps you just know that most of your friends are busy with problem sets while you decide to bake yet another batch of midnight brownies or watch another batch of Family Guys episodes?
I hate to repeat the tired old phrase that you should “never compare yourself to others but only to yourself yesterday.” Such an attitude is difficult when your grades and future job opportunities have a lot to do with how well you compare to those doing the problem set.
Rather, the second step I propose is to embrace some of the benefits of procrastination. After all, time spent procrastinating — up late baking cookies with your friends or your GF or your BF, sharing a few beers with your roommates at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday, reading random articles recommended to you by StumbleUpon, watching NOVA shows about the universe during exam week instead of studying for actual Astronomy — ultimately gives us interesting material to think and talk about. They are, speaking for myself, a source of wacky and cool conversations. Some, hopefully, will provide me with fun memories. Someday such memories will conceivably prove to be more valuable than a potential A in Computer Science. They will certainly be more valuable than another night in the library.
Regardless of its potential future benefits, I know that such procrastination has been essential to making close friends here at Cornell. There is something wonderfully humble and unpretentious about deviating from the expected path of endless work. So go ahead, embrace your humanity, resist your march to machinehood, make some friends, make some memories and realize that procrastinating is what makes you worth being around. Frankly, I now wish I had done it more often.
Harry DiFrancesco is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stirring the Pot appears alternate Mondays this semester.