Emma Cowing: Putting off fateful hour is an art form

SHOULD you be reading this column? Isn’t there something more important you should be doing, like solving the European sovereign debt crisis, or descaling the kettle? Never mind. There will be time for all that later.

A new survey suggests that us Brits spend more than three years of our lives procrastinating. Three years. That’s enough time to complete a university degree. Or listen to a Justin Bieber album without perforating an eardrum.

The report, which involved over 1,000 men and women, revealed that 87 per cent admitted regularly putting tasks off until the last moment.

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Popular delaying tactics include having a cup of tea, pausing for a bite to eat and nipping to the loo. Apparently, the things we’re most keen to avoid include DIY jobs, domestic chores such as doing the laundry, ironing and cleaning, as well as dealing with bills and other dull bits of household administration. This tots up to a somewhat concerning one hour and 17 minutes per day, or eight hours and 59 minutes a week.

What a depressing drain on time and energy that could be put to much better use on doing more interesting, exciting and enthralling things! Well, that’s the theory anyway.

The survey also revealed that when something important comes up that we don’t want to do, we will suddenly decide that odd and dull little jobs are urgent priorities. Activities such as watering the plants and sorting out the sock drawer mysteriously take on the importance of a Cobra meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, as long as it means avoiding paying the phone bill.

In itself, this is no revelation – every schoolchild faced with a particularly tricky bit of algebra homework has employed this tactic, shocking their parents by suddenly displaying a desperate ambition to tidy their bedroom or unload the dishwasher that vanishes the minute the weekend arrives.

A spokesman for the company that commissioned the research was scathing about our almost pathological need to procrastinate. “When the procrastination time is added up over a lifetime, it really does seem we are wasting three years of our lives by effectively actively time wasting,” he said. “We could all become much more productive, and enjoy more leisure time, simply by choosing not to procrastinate.”

That’s us told. But it is perhaps telling that the survey was commissioned by a company that sells electronic cigarettes whose interests it is in to tell us that procrastinating – by which, of course, it means smoking a cigarette, something which these days is most often done during a break – is a waste of time, as it might help it to sell electronic cigarettes.

Smoking an e-cigarette means no longer having to go outside for a puff, or separate yourself from the rest of the family (something demonstrated cleverly by the company’s TV advert, which shows a father leaving the room for a smoke, only to miss his toddler performing a complex dance routine), but “smoking” away happily while getting on 
with more important things instead.

While e-cigarettes are a viable way of weaning yourself off the demon tobacco, I’m not sure anyone would want to spend their lives with one permanently affixed to their fingers.

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But smoking – electronic or otherwise – aside, there is something more fundamental being missed here.

Procrastination is, well, fun. There is a delicious and subversive joy in doing something unimportant and pointless when you are supposed to be something important and critical, that goes to the heart of who we are as human beings. That we are flawed, and that every single day we don’t manage to get it right, is an essential, and necessary part of life.

Over the years, I have turned my procrastination into an art. I love it. I plan my procrastination as something to be savoured, the taste made sweeter in the knowledge that I should probably be doing something more important instead. Often it involves reading gossip sites, inhaling pointless information such as the contents of Khloe Kardashian’s fridge freezer.

Procrastination should be encouraged, so that when we do have to get down to something important, we don’t have a choice but to do it, and do it well.

Now, isn’t it time to start descaling the kettle?