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How to Put Off Until Never What You Should Have Done Last Week

by Rose Madeline Mula

Procrastination has such a bad reputation. Undeservedly so. Think about it. Those who do not procrastinate never have time to enjoy themselves, even after a hard day's work at the day job. They're always too busy obeying that nagging voice in their minds that keeps reminding them of the bills to be paid ... the phone calls to return ... the beds to make ... the floors to wash ... the kids' homework to check ... the errands to run ... the checkbook to balance ... the toilets to scrub. These poor suckers complete one task, and a dozen others demand attention. The doers never catch up. Their only hope is to learn the ancient art of procrastination.

Yes, ancient. Procrastination originated in Eden, you see, when Eve was propositioned by a snake in the grass who promised to put her on the cover of the first issue of Vogue in exchange for her soul. Tempted by the prospect of fame and fortune as the universe's first top model, she nagged Adam to gather some flax and weave her a suitably chic outfit. But Adam kept saying, "Maybe later."

In reality, Adam was no slouch. And no fool. He simply preferred Eve in her birthday suit. Furthermore, he knew if he spent all day weaving, he wouldn't have time to do the things he enjoyed — such as taking bites from Eve's apple, which he may not have been inclined to do had she been wrapped in flax.

Unfortunately, early historians erroneously blamed the couple's eviction from Eden, not on Eve's avarice and lust for fame, but on Adam's delay in granting her unreasonable demand. And so it came to pass that "procrastination" became a dirty word, a misconception that has persisted throughout the ages.

In the prehistoric centuries that followed, there was little need for anyone to emulate Adam's delaying tactics because people had very few obligations. No Rotary Club meetings, no office hours, no church services, no dentist appointments. No one could read or write, so To Do lists were unknown.

In short, during that period there was seldom any incentive to practice procrastination, except for occasional exceptions such as when the family got hungry and the wife would nag her napping husband to go kill dinner. Even though the cave man had never learned about Adam, an atavistic impulse would kick in, and he'd grunt, "UGH$#%@&!" ("Maybe later.")

Procrastination really came into its own in the era when the Greeks discovered Democracy. As we all know, legislative bodies never get anything done. This same period, according to historians, spawned the empty promises, "I'll take care of it" and "The check is in the mail."

Later, during the Renaissance, schools proliferated, the arts blossomed, literature flourished, and accomplishment became a prime goal — further challenging man's ingenuity to find ways to avoid responsibility. Take, for example, Michelangelo's painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It is a recorded fact that when he submitted his estimate, he promised, "A year, eighteen months at the outside, counting pasta breaks." But one thing led to another, and before the Vatican VIPs realized it, thirty years had passed and Mickey still hadn't completed the job.

Other notable procrastinators in fiction include Scarlett O'Hara, who lived by the philosophy, "I'll think about that tomorrow," and Hamlet who kept putting off his decision of whether to be or not to be.

Thousands of other fictional and real slackers through the years understood that one of the prime benefits of procrastination is ego gratification. They realized that if you actually tackle a project and botch it, there's no turning back. Everyone will know you failed. On the other hand, if you keep putting a job off, you can tell yourself (and everyone else) that you could do it brilliantly — if you had the time. Maybe later.

Most people have been brainwashed to believe that procrastinators are slothful, lazy clods. Not so. We are constantly busy, but only with activities we fancy, rather than the unpleasant, boring tasks which society tries to impose on us. In truth, procrastinators lead rich, full lives that lack only the three D's: Drudgery, Duty and Deadlines.

The conscientious accomplisher, on the other hand, ruled by these same three D's, never has time for R&R, even when he has completed a difficult task. Because the sooner and the better he does it, the more in demand he is for the next job waiting to be done. Once on that treadmill, the harder he runs, the faster he generates more work for himself. Because of the lack of proper education in this area, too many unfortunates trudge this treadmill of accomplishment from infancy to senility, never once tasting the joys of procrastination.

Why has the plight of this miserable majority been ignored? Certainly not for lack of good intentions. In fact, thousands of studies of this international tragedy have been initiated over the centuries. Unfortunately, not one has ever been completed. You can help by demanding legislative action to create head-start programs to help the disadvantaged — those unfortunate overachievers, the compulsive go-getters. Write your Congressman today ... or tomorrow ... next month ... whenever you get around to it. In fact, you can use thinking about writing that letter as an excuse for putting off an even more distasteful task, like cleaning the roof gutters or changing the baby.

Meanwhile, why not visit a bookstore? Just think of the wonderfully unproductive hours you can spend, purposelessly browsing the aisles, flipping through the latest best sellers, travel tomes, cookbook collections, and so much more. Be scrupulously careful, however, to avoid the self-help section that invariably includes manuals on organizing your life, managing your time, setting goals, and other such odious topics.

I really need a closing paragraph for this essay. A couple of pithy quotes from some recognized authorities would tie it up nicely, but who? I suppose I could do some research.

Maybe later.

Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through Amazon.com and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.

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