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[posted 11.22.2000]


NOT TOO LONG AGO I was sitting in my room, contemplating all that I had to do, and how little I actually wanted to do any of it. I find myself in this situation often — bombarded with a list of tasks and not quite up to performing any of them. I’m what many people refer to as a “last minute” guy, reserving all my energy for the few moments before something must be completed — and then, as though I’m possessed, the work just pours forth out of necessity. In a way, I’m like that hero in a Hollywood picture who rescues the day seconds before the world is destroyed. In a much more realistic way, I’m like a guy on a couch who likes to watch television.

It was during this period of sloth and indulgent immobility that I had an idea for a short article entitled, “How To Procrastinate.” After all, I’ve been a dedicated procrastinator for a good 23 years — plenty of time to amass an impressive list of tactics for delaying the act of productivity. It’s in my blood to approach every situation with an understanding that I’ll actually do it later. Some people are quick on their feet. I’m quick at getting off my feet.

Not convinced that this article would be marketable? I can assure you that many people out there who look on the procrastinator with great envy. “How can you just sit there and do nothing?” I’ve been asked time and again. In all my years of hearing this, I have simply wrinkled my forehead and shrugged my shoulders. But I now realize that there could be a very focused person out there — someone who has completed every assignment handed to him a day before the deadline — who would like to know how to stop this habit. [And, in case you haven’t noticed, the expository essay is hot, finding its way as a teaser on hundreds of mainstream covers. There’s a whole market out there for “How To” articles ranging from the informative “How to Apply for a Job” to the obvious “How to Apply Lipstick.”]

Inspired by this burst of creativity, I quickly threw aside everything I was supposed to do (bills, taxes, term paper, etc.), scoured my desk drawer for a working pen, opened up an old notebook — and realized I hadn’t called my friend Evan in three weeks. He was set to leave for law school in a few days, and this would be my last chance to say “How’s it going?” without paying a long distance fee. As much as I wanted to jot down my immediate thoughts on the art of procrastination, I didn’t want to sacrifice a lifelong friendship in the process.

After 60 minutes of conversation with my good friend, I was ready to sit down and hammer out this piece. Unfortunately, my place was a mess. Damp towels hung off of the bed, clothes were scattered across my room as if it were the setting for a remake of The Blob , magazines and newspapers carpeted the floor. Magazines and newspapers carpeted the floor, and the remnants of last week’s meals resembled a museum exhibit on the kitchen table. While this is the perfect environment for going to sleep, it tends to be a slight interruption when attempting to be creative. Clutter is the core of writer’s block. And so I took it upon myself to put my clothes in a laundry bin, the dishes in the sink, the current events in the garbage and the towels in the bathroom. But once you start playing the part of the Cat in the Hat, you can’t stop. Pretty soon, I found myself doing the laundry, washing the dishes, and vacuuming the floor.

It was amazing how much I accomplished in that two-hour cleaning frenzy. Once everything had been cleaned and put away, the place was absolutely immaculate — suitable for a writer of great stature. I sat back down, jotted my humorous title on the top of the notebook, and wrote the first thing that came into my mind: “Food.” Curious where this word would lead me, I began listing all the things that I associated with food: cheese, sandwiches, Häagen-Dazs.

I paused right there. My stomach grumbled, and I thought back to the last time I had actually eaten something. It had been a while, and, with all the hard work I’d done, I felt that a meal was long overdue.

I slipped on some sandals, grabbed my keys and headed over to the pizzeria before it closed. It was ten minutes to midnight. By the time I got back, I was really tired. I closed my notebook and called it a night.

It’s been three weeks since I conceived the idea for a how-to guide on the art of procrastination. Although I am not technically finished — nor, for that matter, technically started — I have managed to scribble a few key points down and have every intention of getting this done soon. But not now.

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prescott tolk is a comedy writer for the humor network. he also is the publisher of