Sometimes effective decision making involves the art of delay:
Procrastination is fundamental, like eating: when we look ahead to the future, we know we will have plenty of tasks that we won’t be able to finish, just as we know we must eat. That is simply how life works. As Ainslie explains, the number of things we might do is potentially infinite: “It is literally impossible not to put off most of what you actually can do.” Ainslie suggests that procrastination problems are simply part of the human condition: “While conspicuous temptations can be identified and subjected to personal rules, a preference for deferring effort, discomfort, or boredom can never be entirely controlled. It is as fundamental as the shape of time, and could well be called the basic impulse.”
In February 1996, John Perry, a philosophy professor at Stanford University, finally got around to writing an essay about procrastination for the Chronicle of Higher Education. He had been planning to do it for months, and he started writing, not because he had uncommitted time on his hands, but because he was looking for a way of not doing all the things he was supposed to be doing: grading papers, reviewing a grant proposal, and reading dissertation drafts. It is an avoidance strategy he calls “structured procrastination.”
By structured procrastination Perry means that we should structure, or plan, which items on our to-do list are the best candidates for being put off. He says structured procrastination can “convert procrastinators into effective human beings, respected and admired for all that they can accomplish and the good use they make of time.”
The overall point isn’t lost on this WSJ Bookshelf review. It is possibly to have too much procrastination–as we all recognize.
Mr. Partnoy’s intention in “Wait” is to take on those who evangelize the power of thinking quickly, “getting things done” and leading an organized life. We can praise efficiency (“Bob answers every email,” “he always gives you a quick decision,” “he never misses a deadline”) but fail to take note of what is sacrificed in its name. (We rarely hear “Bob’s emails never say anything interesting,” “he doesn’t seem to think very deeply about the matters” or “his work is on time but never more than competent.”) “Wait” offers a valuable counterweight to this attitude, reminding us that quality should matter as much as speed.
More on this with Dian Rehm’s interview with Frank Partnoy today.