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On Procrastination

— By Sebastian Ruhleder

Procrastination is, besides gravity, one of the fundamental forces of the universe. Its grip on us is so firm that we have all but given up and wallow in self-pity when it comes up. Why is it so hard for us to do stuff? Imagine a world where people set their mind to something and then... well, did it.

Whenever I try to do something productive, I get a sudden urge to check my emails, read the news, watch a YouTube video, or even go for a smoke. The initial effort to start doing something is so strenuous that I physically feel my body pulling away from it. Why do I have this urge to avoid doing something worthwhile? I've slept a good eight hours, had breakfast, enjoyed a coffee – I'm as ready as I'll ever be today. And yet I shy away from work.

Everyone suffers from procrastination. Some less than others, but no one is above it. Coming at it from an evolutionary standpoint, we can ask ourselves: What biological reason could explain this behavior? Ultimately, we're animals, and simple biological processes can explain most of our quirks. Is it to conserve energy? To only do things when they are essential? Biologically, it certainly makes sense to save energy. After a long day of work, I wouldn't be able to fight off a tiger that suddenly pounces on me. (After breakfast, all loaded up on PB&J sandwiches, the tiger obviously wouldn't stand a chance.)

Whether this can, in part, explain procrastination or not, we can taste the spicy irony of our lives in our need to do things nonetheless. Next to procrastination, the need for creation is an equally fundamental force of human existence, a thirst we need to quench to be content or, at least, at rest for a while. So, we find ourselves in the midst of a storm. Procrastination is pulling us one way, and the need to express ourselves pulls us another.

It's easy to hate either side. When we're restless and tired, we want nothing more than to enjoy a guilt-free afternoon watching our favorite TV series, and we hate our need for creation and the feeling of guilt it creates within us. When we're creating something, we want nothing more than to slack off, and we hate procrastination for its sluggishness and the laziness it evokes in us.

We're in the middle of two opposing forces. Yin and yang. What side is deserving of our hate? Both? Neither? I suppose this is a puzzle everyone has to solve for themselves. As always, there is no miracle cure, no one recipe for overcoming inertia or drive. But I know which side I want to err on. I'd rather be driven, restless, inspired – creating something of value for myself and others than to sit on the couch and squander my life away. Maybe my hate for procrastination is amateurish, and someone more enlightened than me has made peace with it. And maybe someday I will too. Until then, I have to keep fighting it; otherwise, it will consume me and spit me out as a slacker.