As a grad student, I consider procrastination to be an area I excel in. In fact, given that I can’t really remember what I’m here studying—given the number rats I see here, I assume it is somewhere in the field of biology, though I wouldn’t swear by it—I would go so far as to call it my area of expertise.
So, when I hear you adorable undergrads talking about how much you procrastinate, I can’t help but smile at your naivete. While I have no doubt that some of you spend more time on Facebook than you should, you clearly don’t understand the subtle shades of procrastination in the same way I do.
As a general thought exercise, I like to compare each different flavor of procrastination to a different level in Dante’s Hell. The metaphor is really quite apt: a depressing spiral, where the deeper you go, the worse and more vile the offences you encounter.
The occupants of the first ring of Procrastination Hell can, at some level, be considered productive, much in the same way that the residents of Limbo aren’t necessarily evil. At this level, procrastination is avoiding one assignment by doing another. It’s answering emails. It’s procrasticleaning. At the end of the day, something useful is done. While you occasionally see hardcore procrastinators here on a rare guilt-trip to the land of productivity, Procrastination Hell’s main resident is the freshman trying to convince himself that he actually is a hard worker. At this tender stage in life, students like to think well of themselves. Their fragile egos just can’t bear to admit that they don’t want to work, so they find things to convince themselves they’re staying busy.
In the second ring, on the other hand, we find students trying to convince others that they’re staying busy. Here, we find excuses like organizing to-do lists, making life plans, making coffee and—my personal favorite—cleaning out their inbox. Things that, in an abstract sense, could make them more productive but that, in all actuality, won’t.
Once we enter the third ring, we reach the point of no return. Once you engage in the behaviors, there’s no easy way back, if any at all. Redditors, Stumblers, Tumblrs, serial blog-readers and Netflix-watchers lurk in the murky depths of this ring. Much like the tar pit in Dante’s opus, once trapped by them, one does not simply escape the draws of this behavior. With an almost Pavlovian sense of conditioning that keeps you coming back looking for more, there are no casual users for these sites. Once here, you’re here for eternity.
Past this, you get to the real honey badgers of Procrastination Hell: the ones who really just couldn’t give any less of a damn if they tried. The name of this pit of despair? Grad school.
Here, at the bottom level of Procrastination Hell, are the people who when asked, “What are you doing?” can, in all honesty, respond, “Nothing.” Sitting, staring at the ceiling. Stirring your coffee while staring ahead in a daze. Throwing little paper balls into a glass. True, mindless, apathetic nothingness. Now don’t get me wrong, everyone does this occasionally, but the denizens of this ring of Hell take it to another level. Every morning, they wake up, take a shower (optional) and drive to their lab with absolutely every intention of staring into space for hours on end.
So, my friends, keep this in mind when next you bemoan your procrastination. While you may be unproductive at the moment, just remind yourself: at least I’m not in grad school.