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Citrus Skeletons And The Thief Of Time

March 16, 2009

‘Procrastination is the thief of time.’ My Dad used to say that. And, to be fair, Wordsworth before him. But procrastination, like all tastes, is an acquired one. It isn’t merely wasting time. It’s an artform. It’s the art of wasting time. The secret, as Eliot knew, is that ‘life is very long.’ We need things to take up the downtime.

Procrastination, at its most fundamental, is the exercise of freedom. Each man is King in his own world. And the best part of being King is not that you can do anything you want, but that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. I am lord of all I survey. My will is absolute and beyond question. I could do this assignment, and I will, as and when I choose to.

But first, I will make myself a sandwich of such staggering proportions that court sculptors will make copies of it for posterity. As the lone and level sands stretch away, a stone tablet will eventually be uncovered which will tell of the King who could build such things.

I will use all the condiments, even the ones near the back of the fridge which have been in there so long they have evolved into the apex predator, whose merest movement stills the vegetable herds into silence. I will use the black olives, my subconscious helpfully steering my attention away from the fact that the faded label says ‘Green Olives’. I will include at least three phyla of beast, a sandwich with only one form of meat being nothing more than an elaborate absorber of saliva. Finally, I will cut off all the crust because I am no longer a boy but a man, free to do as he pleases. And no mere man but a King. (I will still hide the crust down the side of the bin, unable to rid myself of the disquieting sense of sin.)

Having becalmed the Royal appetite, I must now devote an hour and a half of concentrated endeavour to the PlayStation, to increase my hand-eye co-ordination to the necessary levels required for my fingers to fly across the keyboard as the assignment comes pouring out, filling up the screen, scrolling ever upwards as the words and sentences come out balanced perfectly, so that even the bibliography is raised to the sphere of inspired poetry.

But first I must see what my flatmate is up to, because I am no inscrutable head of state toiling away on works of genius, isolated in an ivory tower carved out of the tusks of all the elephants I have single-handedly slain, but a generous monarch, much beloved by his people. And, as in this case, if one of my subjects is enjoying an ale, why I shall join him and revel in the lot of the common man. And should he in his untutor’d ways choose to drink another, it is only politeness to join him.

And finally, because I am not only a sovereign ruler but also the owner of a poet’s heart, I will listen to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall.’ Twice. Now that the assignment is virtually finished and edited (in my head), the actual typing out of it, is merely a mechanical process, so I may as well wake up early tomorrow and dispense with that necessary unpleasantness before a spot of falconry…


This is the most basic of the types of procrastination, and is the form most people know. Unpleasant things are put off and pleasant things are indulged in, to show that we possess freedom. But this doesn’t explain the phenomena contained in the above photo. For that is procrastination raised to level of vocation. More of that later.

Moving up from the basic, we get into Relative Procrastination. This is where the pleasantness of an activity is relative to the urgency of the need of that activity being completed. So if you have to fill out a bunch of forms, for say, renewal of a passport, then it is an interminable bore and you would rather do your taxes. But if it is two days before your tax return is due, then passport renewal forms become as interesting as secret KGB files.

Another variation is the Justified Procrastination. Here, you leave off doing something in order to do something which is of some other supposed value. Instead of studying for exams, you clean up your entire house, re-tile the roof and replace the entire plumbing with non-lead, environmentally friendly pipes.

This form is strictly for amateurs. To think that your procrastination is anything other than avoidance is nothing but self-deception, of the kind indulged in by those who wash down cheese-encrusted double-cheese cheese pizzas with a Coke Zero. The true master of procrastination would never delude himself into such a frame of thought.

The activities you occupy your procrastination time with must be entirely non-productive ones. Two days before exams? Go out, see a bad movie, teach yourself funny Spanish phrases, go bowling until you get a strike, put up some witty graffiti, systematically work out the worst song you own, sew secret pockets into your favourite clothing and invent a signature breakfast dish – the list is endless. But clean up the place? No, make more mess! Sparkly, crunchy mess.

My favourite though, is the most specialized form. This is the realm of Pure Procrastination. This is procrastination for no reason at all. The above is a photo of an orange. It can be found on our kitchen countertop. It is over one and a half years old. The Brisbane heat has completely dessicated the inside of it, so it is totally hollow. The outer skin has shrunken and hardened almost to the toughness of a table tennis ball. Usually, fruit will just degrade into a fermenting pulp. But through some strange environmental embalming effect, this orange is now as indestructible as the pyramids.

Having fallen from the fruit bowl, it rolled down the other end of the counter. Neither myself nor my two flatmates could be bothered retrieving it, so there it remained. And remained. Soon, we couldn’t put it back, because it may contaminate the other fruit. It became a fixture. It became the fourth flatmate. Even when we cleaned the countertop (a rare enough event) we would just lift it up, clean, put it back down. It wasn’t a case of waiting for someone else to handle it – we all knew full well none the others would ever be bothered.

This is procrastination in perpetuity. We are a bunch of lazy bastards, but that doesn’t explain it. The effort it would take for me to walk over there and throw it away right now would be a lot less than having taken a photo of it before transferring it to my computer and uploading it to a website. No, this is putting something off just for the sake of putting it off. This is Zencrastination, and master practitioners of it are also capable of speeding up and slowing down their heartbeats at will.

Sooner or later, the committed procrastinater discovers the thrill of riding the delay donkey all the way to the end of the line. The assignment doesn’t get handed in. The bill doesn’t get paid, the reservation doesn’t get made, and time runs out. Excuses are made – the computer crashed, I’ve been snowed under with work, I plain forgot etc.

But to the connoisseur of Pure Procrastination, these excuses are unsatisfactory. The only two options worthy of honour are either blatant honesty – ‘To tell you the truth, it was simply a lot more fun not doing the assignment than getting it done. But at no point did I forget about the assignment” , or extravagantly complete and utter bald-faced lies – “What are you taking about? I handed in that assignment.” All true procrastinaters are good actors. “No, I didn’t make a copy, and I refuse to re-do the assignment. It’s not my fault you lost it.”

But these are extreme variations. For most of the lovers of procrastination inhabit a world where things get done, just not right now. There is a sort of mild bliss in relaxing when you have a lot of things that need doing. It adds a memory-sharpened edge that makes you enjoy relaxation more. Anyone can relax when you don’t have anything to do. Not everyone is cut out for it.

There are worriers and fretters and planners and organizers and all those who equate order with control. They set whole projects out weeks before their time. They also use one of the procrastiner’s favourite tool, the calendar. But unlike us, who look over a months worth of failed accomplishments with pride, they actually have their calendar entries crossed off as they complete them.

With no room for the thrill of frittering away time, they get out the necessary books for an assignment weeks in advance, drafts are drawn up, revised, shown to lecturers, revised again and finally handed in. You see them when the marks come out, frowning at their 90, wondering in which areas their extensive planning had let them down. Few people understand the unique joy of procrastination. The indescribable elation of getting a 60 on an assignment which was only started on the day it was due.

We walk a higher road, one which has many side streets and alleys, all of which lead to a restful sleep in a warm bed metres away from a desk where a ‘To Do’ list flutters restlessly, driven by the winds of fate.


viva minutiae,


One Comment leave one →
  1. Wannabe Procrastinator permalink
    August 23, 2009 2:59 am

    Well well well. Here we have the King of All Procrastinators, the Supreme Almighty Procrastinator In Chief by whose hand the Book of Procrastination was writ.

    Keep up the words of wisdom. We need them.

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