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REVIEW: Confessions of a procrastinator

March 24, 2013

Reviewed by Shagufta Naaz

Don’t Buy This Book Now!: The Art of Procrastination … hmm ... I wonder if my editor is trying to tell me something. Not that I’m a procrastinator, you understand. It’s just that deadlines have a way of sneaking past me and before I know it they have disappeared weeks beyond the date the book review was due.

But not this time. This time I have the perfect weapon — the book itself will show me how to deliver on time (when I get round to reading it, that is). On the face of it the author, John Perry, is the last person you would peg as a procrastinator. He is professor of Philosophy at Stanford University and distinguished professor of Philosophy at the University of California. Author of several books and reams of articles, what would he know about the persuasive temptation of putting things off?

Turns out, Perry has actually mastered the art of procrastination (hence the title of the book). He even has a name for it — “structured procrastination”. According to Perry a structured procrastinator is “a person who gets a lot done by not doing other things.” Ok, I quite like this definition, but how does one put it into practice? Simple. Just change the priority of your tasks. Because, according to Perry, procrastinators seldom sit around doing nothing; they just find it hard to do the thing they are supposed to be doing. So if your to-do list is headed by something like ‘sort out the bills’ or ‘do the laundry’ you will find anything you can to avoid that task.

So all you have to do is find a task that seems important, but really isn’t, to put at the top of your to-do list. “Learn to speak Chinese” is one suggestion by the author. Of course, in your heart you know that you’re just fooling yourself, but according to Perry, “this is not a problem since virtually all procrastinators have excellent self deception skills.” Now doesn’t that make you feel good about yourself?

However, Perry also gives a boost to our ego; in the very next chapter he explains how a procrastinator is actually a perfectionist. Unfortunately, since perfection is a fantasy, a procrastinator will never achieve this goal and either put off a project indefinitely or, hopefully, turn in an acceptable product not too far past the deadline.

Perfectionism is just one positive spin Perry applies to the chronic procrastinator; if you read his book you will be able to find several more flattering, seemingly important ways to define yourself: horizontally organised;  a follower of the Kaizen Way, etcetera.

There is a — admittedly, not very helpful — chapter on how to avoid the lure of web surfing. Most of us will completely identify with Perry as he recounts his continuous (and unsuccessful) struggle to keep up with his mail; unfortunately he doesn’t seem to have devised any method to deal with the problem so no help for us there. As for curtailing aimless web surfing (is there any other kind?), Perry suggests an alarm clock (yes, seriously).

The Art of Procrastination may not turn you into an efficient and productive human being (when was the last time a self-help book did that, anyways?) but it will make you smile as you recognise your little foibles and, more important, it will make you feel less guilty about being a procrastinator. As Perry says, “never do today any task that may disappear by tomorrow.” Unfortunately this doesn’t apply to book review deadlines, but one can’t have everything.


The reviewer is a Dawn staffer


Don’t Buy This Book Now!: The Art of Procrastination


By John Perry

Landmark, India

ISBN 780670086696

112pp. Indian Rs299