Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Procrastination goes back to the dawn of civilization

The tendency to procrastinate dates back to the very beginnings of civilization. As early as 1400 B.C., [psychologist Piers] Steel told me, ancient Egyptians were struggling with basic time management. “Friend, stop putting off work and allow us to go home in good time,” read some hieroglyphs, translated by the University of Toronto Egyptologist Ronald Leprohon. Six hundred years later, in 800 B.C., the early Greek poet Hesiod voiced a similar feeling, warning us not to “put your work off till tomorrow and the day after, for a sluggish worker does not fill his barn, nor one who puts off his work.” In 44 B.C., Cicero deemed “slowness and procrastination” always “hateful.” (James Surowiecki wrote about philosophers’ interest in procrastination in the magazine, in 2010.)

The sentiment survived intact through more recent times. In 1751, Samuel Johnson remarked, “The folly of allowing ourselves to delay what we know cannot be finally escaped is one of the general weaknesses which, in spite of the instruction of moralists, and the remonstrances of reason, prevail to a greater or lesser degree in every mind; even they who most steadily withstand it find it, if not the most violent, the most pertinacious of their passions, always renewing its attacks, and, though often vanquished, never destroyed.” He concluded that it was “natural,” if not praiseworthy or desirable, “to have particular regard to the time present.”
--Maria Konnikova, New Yorker, on the unchanging nature of human nature. HT: OM