In 1930 the economist John Maynard Keynes wrote that, by the 21st century, we would be working a mere 15 hours a week. He fully expected that the central question plaguing our lives today would be “what will we do with all our free time?” Technology, it was argued, was supposed to liberate us. Robots would do the heavy lifting and computers would do all the hard sums (yes, even advanced calculus) faster and better than we could ever do ourselves.
However, it hasn’t quite worked out that way has it? In fact we seem busier than ever. For every productivity problem we have there is a website, app or other online service that promises the solution to our overwhelming lives, but it never seems to be enough. The reasons for this issue are complex, maddening and still not fully understood. However, there maybe something that Keynes didn’t take account of (or maybe he did. I’m not sure. I’m not an economist – answers in the comments below :-D). Technological improvements not only to helped us work more efficiently but also helped us get better at avoiding work. Perhaps it is a by-product of being human, but as technology developed exponentially and silicon valley entrepreneurs worked hard so that we could be more efficient when we ‘worked hard’, people started to use the internet more as a tool to put off ‘getting things done’ than as something which helped productivity.
Admit it, you’re probably reading this blog in order to put off doing something else. Maybe you came to the post from twitter, where you spent several hours lovingly crafting your tweets for maximum social media impact. Or perhaps you googled ‘procrastination’ as a distractionary tactic and found your way here. I’m not judging. I think it’s great that you’re here. You could have just as easily fallen into the Buzzfeed vortex and then where would you be?
With the interwebs one might say we have hit peak procrastination. It is a vast universe of think-pieces, status updates, pointless quizzes, celebrity gossip and crazy cat videos. If we add a constellation of social media platforms to this, it’s a miracle we ever get anything done at all. I can easily spend several hours browsing through my twitter feed looking for interesting snippets of info (btw if you don’t follow me on twitter, please do and we can procrastinate together :-)). And don’t get me started on YouTube. The video sharing website is such a powerful tool for the procrastinating pro that I’ll be giving it it’s own blog post later in the week.
However, I am all about structured procrastination and am going to argue that when we faff about on the internet it’s often of more use than we give it credit for. Reading the latest think piece on Literary Hub, reading blogs posts about writing and book reviews or even learning about how to use up the last of the peanut butter on lifehacker, is never, in my opinion, a waste of time. It’ll all come in handy someday, even if, right now, your conscience is nagging at you to get on with cleaning the kitchen (although, see this post).
Even when we find ourselves three hours deep into a maze of wikipedia articles that begins with looking up the population of Iceland and ends with an in-depth exploration into the 10 weirdest reddit threads, I suggest that all of this is good. As writers, of which many visitors to this blog are, such disorganised meanderings are vital to the creative process. They help generate ideas, consolidate old ones and give our subconscious the time to figure out what needs to be done to improve our projects.
So if you are here because you just can’t yet face tackling today’s word count. Don’t worry. Be kind yourself, safe in the knowledge that, although it might not seem like it, you’re actually doing yourself a favour.
You can find the rest of the How to Procrastinate series here.
Next time: YouTube.