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Good and Bad Procrastination

Recently, Paul Graham talks about procrastination. I am a big fan of Paul’s writings, and this one opens a new meaning of procrastination. He said no matter what you work on, you’re not working on something else – you are procrastinating something. He classifies there are three procrastinations: do nothing; do something less important; and do something more important. He argues that do something less important is the most dangerous procrastination among those three types, as you wouldn’t even know you are procrastinate. By far, do something more important, usually hard problems or big tasks, is probably the hardest type to achieve. How to be a “Good Procrastinator”? It means procrastinate things that are less important and do some ambitious and high return tasks:

… But the trouble with big problems can’t be just that they promise no immediate reward and might cause you to waste a lot of time. If that were all, they’d be no worse than going to visit your in-laws. There’s more to it than that. Big problems are terrifying. There’s an almost physical pain in facing them. It’s like having a vacuum cleaner hooked up to your imagination. All your initial ideas get sucked out immediately, and you don’t have any more, and yet the vacuum cleaner is still sucking.

You can’t look a big problem too directly in the eye. You have to approach it somewhat obliquely. But you have to adjust the angle just right: you have to be facing the big problem directly enough that you catch some of the excitement radiating from it, but not so much that it paralyzes you. You can tighten the angle once you get going, just as a sailboat can sail closer to the wind once it gets underway.

If you want to work on big things, you seem to have to trick yourself into doing it. You have to work on small things that could grow into big things, or work on successively larger things, or split the moral load with collaborators. It’s not a sign of weakness to depend on such tricks. The very best work has been done this way…

Good and Bad Procrastination – [Paul Graham]

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