It’s not uncommon for me to promise a future post on this blog that either never comes or comes later than expected. There are also tons of posts in my mental queue that I simply haven’t gotten around to writing. Procrastination is not a novel phenomenon, though, so I know I’m in no way unique. I did enjoy reading James Surowiecki’s article on the topic, so I’m posting about it mere seconds after finishing reading it. I’m particularly intrigued by this notion of the “extended will,” although I’m having trouble applying it to blogging, since there is literally no penalty for delaying or not posting.
Instead, we should rely on what Joseph Heath and Joel Anderson, in their essay in “The Thief of Time,” call “the extended will”—external tools and techniques to help the parts of our selves that want to work. A classic illustration of the extended will at work is Ulysses’ decision to have his men bind him to the mast of his ship. Ulysses knows that when he hears the Sirens he will be too weak to resist steering the ship onto the rocks in pursuit of them, so he has his men bind him, thereby forcing him to adhere to his long-term aims.
Or maybe I just need to strengthen my will:
Mark D. White advances an idealist argument rooted in Kantian ethics: recognizing procrastination as a failure of will, we should seek to strengthen the will rather than relying on external controls that will allow it to atrophy further. This isn’t a completely fruitless task: much recent research suggests that will power is, in some ways, like a muscle and can be made stronger.
In any case, I think there’s real merit to the dichotomy Surowiecki sets up at the end:
In that sense, it might be useful to think about two kinds of procrastination: the kind that is genuinely akratic and the kind that’s telling you that what you’re supposed to be doing has, deep down, no real point. The procrastinator’s challenge, and perhaps the philosopher’s, too, is to figure out which is which.
On that note, I owe this blog a review of David Harvey’s excellent book, The Enigma of Capital. Don’t hold your breath, though; I’m a blogger-at-will.