Paul Graham on Procrastination

kinnon —  December 26, 2005 — Leave a comment

Originally posted @ achievable leadership earlier today.

Paul Graham worms his way into my heart with the beginning of his article on procrastination.

The most impressive people I know are all terrible procrastinators. So could it be that procrastination isn’t always bad?

Graham identifies different types of procrastinators:

There are three variants of procrastination, depending on what you do instead of working on something: you could work on (a) nothing, (b) something less important, or (c) something more important. That last type, I’d argue, is good procrastination.

That’s the “absent-minded professor,” who forgets to shave, or eat, or even perhaps look where he’s going while he’s thinking about some interesting question. His mind is absent from the everyday world because it’s hard at work in another.

Like most procrastinators reading this, I’d love to suggest that I am only ever the C-type. But my reality is that at different times, I can be any one of the three (not that I procrastinate all the time, mind you). Is there any weighting to these types? Graham comments:

The most dangerous form of procrastination is unacknowledged type-B procrastination, because it doesn’t feel like procrastination. You’re “getting things done.” Just the wrong things.

He quotes from an essay of a former Bell Labs computer scientist:

Richard Hamming suggests that you ask yourself three questions:
What are the most important problems in your field?

Are you working on one of them?

Why not?

I don’t know about you, but I’m off to work on one of my field’s most important problems (right after I figure out which one it is). Read Graham’s essay as well as Hamming’s. And to stay on top of Graham’s thoughts, subscribe to an RSS feed. of his Essays.

UPDATE: A response (negative) from the anal-retentive camp.

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

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