I have a friend who wears a t-shirt bearing the slogan: Procrastinators of the world unite – tomorrow. It suits him. Give him a project, and he’ll give you a reason why it can’t be done: it’s too late to start today, the light’s going; I need to Google some info on that; I haven’t got the right tools – it’ll mean a trip to B&Q.
Procrastination, like lateness, is inherent. Some of us arrive at the pool with our swimming costumes on under our clothes, goggles at the ready and correct money in our pocket; others rush in at the last minute, and have to buy a towel from the gym shop and change a £20 note to get coins for the locker.
What brings this to mind is the thorny question of Christmas thank-you letters. Getting these written has never been an issue for me. Even when I was little I used to ask for pretty notepaper and a ‘special’ pen so that I could sit and drop a line to my kind relatives. (You can see I was destined to be a wordsmith!) I’ve tried to instil this habit into my own children, but as they’re both strapping young men now I have to trust that they are showing their gratitude, if only through an email or a text. Apart from anything else, it’s reassuring for the sender to know that a gift has arrived safely – let alone the fact that not to say thank you is simply rude.
A friend was telling me she is battling to get her eight-year-old to understand the concept. She had told her daughter, ‘If you don’t say thank you to Auntie Joan, she will think you don’t like the present and this will make her sad.’ The youngster asked, ‘Do you think Auntie Joan will get me an Easter egg? Well, I’ll wait until then, so she’ll be twice as pleased.’ There’s no answer to that.
My professional life is governed by deadlines. I can’t really turn up to teach a yoga class without a lesson plan: ‘What would you like to do today?’ isn’t a very professional approach. Nor would any of my publishing clients be pleased if my copy was missing as the presses rolled.
So if you come into my office and see Solitaire on my screen, that’s not me having a sneaky play; what’s actually happening is mental palate-cleansing as I draw a line under one task before starting another. And it may look as though I’m tidying my desk and sharpening pencils, but let me assure you that my mind is busy thinking about what I’m going to do next. I’m not procrastinating, I’m planning.