The Laws of Procrastination

I blame my laziness on entropy. You can’t argue with Physics. This article has been tweaked a few times. With apologies to M. J. Farabee.

Second semester can be a weird time at uni. The pain of assessment is still fresh in your mind from semester 1, but not quite close enough to worry about. You think you should be studying but … ah, stuff it, it’s early days yet. You didn’t start studying for your HSC until two weeks before your exams, did you? If you did then stop reading this right now—you obviously have better things to do, like summarising your lecture notes and drawing your mind maps. You’d better get on with it because the rest of us are waiting to borrow you colour-coded summaries.

Perhaps worse than resigning yourself to the fact that first year isn’t going to be the bed of top 10%s that year 12 was, is being under the delusion that you’ll study tomorrow.

Yeah, right. Tomorrow turns into next Monday, next week, next month … and pretty soon it’s the night before exams, you’re guzzling down No Doz like they’re Tic Tacs and wondering why you didn’t just start studying a month ago when you had the luxury of designing colour-coded summaries. You thought cramming for the HSC was stressful? Wait until you’re trying to learn the laws of physics in one sleep-deprived night.

So what makes you do it? Why do you inflict such torture upon yourself? No, you’re not a bad, irresponsible person. (Okay, you’re probably that, too, but not because you procrastinate.) Procrastination is a fact of life. It’s a natural phenomenon that follows several indisputable truths and may well extend beyond your years at uni.

Oh, and look—it’s colour coded already!*

The Laws of Procrastination (with apologies to M. J. Farabee)

Procrastination is defined as the ability not to do work. Procrastination can exist in many forms, such as sleeping, shopping, websurfing and watching M*A*S*H reruns on television.

First Law

Procrastination can take many forms but it cannot be enjoyed without guilt. The first law of procrastination states that there must exist a sense of impending doom, some dire consequence or loss of reward looming on the horizon, which detracts from the complete enjoyment of non-essential activities.

Second Law

The second law states that for a given activity, if incentives and punishments are neither introduced nor retracted, the potential to be productive at any moment will always be less than if you had just got the thing done in the first place. This is commonly referred to as slacking off and is the reason why Stuvac produces so many beautifully colour-coded, meticulously labelled and rigorously planned study timetables, why students wander about aghast, muttering, ‘If only I’d started a month ago…’

Once the potential for productivity is diverted to more pleasurable pursuits, the procrastinator will get no more motivation to work until faced with dire consequences or sweeter rewards. A PhD student will do backup research and perform experiments but will not write a thesis until her grant comes perilously close to running out.

The universe tends towards leisure. The flow of procrastination maintains sanity and joy. Slacking off wins when you are fired, arrested or asked to justify why the university should allow you to re-enrol.

Third Law

The third law of procrastination states that when all pathetic attempts at ‘making an effort’ are removed, a state called vegging out occurs, which results in a filthy flat strewn with empty pizza boxes and plastic cups half-filled with cheap wine at room temperature. Vegging out is attained when you just couldn’t be bothered. About anything.

Work vs Leisure

Work requires a measurable output, usually within an unreasonable timeframe. Unreasonable, because to meet the deadline would impinge on innumerable other far more enjoyable pursuits. Cleaning your share house comes at the expense of a full day of shopping or half a day of surfing and an afternoon nap. The F-it constant is a multiplier used when calculating the reasonableness of any deadline when the surf’s up, an excellent band is playing at Manning or there’s a free BBQ on the way to a lecture.

Leisure requires no such guidelines or restrictions. Any output resulting from leisurely activities may or may not be measurable but they are never produced unreasonably and will not adversely affect disposition, spontaneity or the social calendar. In this case, vacuuming the house may be considered leisurely if done so to avoid cleaning the bathroom or studying for exams.

Procrastination is any activity other than that which you need to do to earn a living, complete DIY projects, graduate from an institution of higher learning or any other endeavour that might be considered as ‘work’.

Corollaries

Corollary #1: What is considered work in one instance may be procrastination in another. Doing the laundry is work if the last clean pair of undies disappeared last week. It is procrastination if a half-written novel languishes on your hard drive while your whiter than white Y-fronts sparkle and flutter under the sun.

Corollary #2: Work may actually be completed while procrastinating if done so in order to avoid other, more pressing work. However, the second law enforces that the work done must be of less significance than the work avoided. Cleaning your share house the day before your thesis is due is still procrastination.

Corollary #3: Procrastination cannot lead to complete freedom or enjoyment as this would violate the first law. When this happens, it ceases to be procrastination and is instead called doing an Arts degree.

The first version of this article, which had no introduction and conclusion, was published on my personal blog in December 2004. A significantly edited version was published in the University of Sydney’s Union Recorder in August 2005.

*The Union Recorder article had coloured headings and should have had highlighted sections, although the highlighting didn’t actually make it to the printed version.

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