I have recently shared about the museum of art work that Picasso gave to his barber. I recently found an interesting quote of Picasso’s: “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.” Although I have shared it several times before, I have to share again what a Spanish coworker said to me the first week at work in Spain. He asked if I was trying to learn Spanish, then asked if I knew what the word mañana meant. I said yes, it meant tomorrow. He said, “No, it could be tomorrow or it could be the day after tomorrow, but mañana is ‘not today’.” And that expresses my procrastination exactly.
When I put something off, I’m not usually thinking that I will actually do it tomorrow, the next day. Instead, what I am thinking is I don’t want to do it right now, I don’t want to do it today, I’d rather do something else right now. Unfortunately, what I put off is usually something important, something related to long term goals, and what I do instead could be considered a waste of time – such as watching TV. Once I’ve delayed action until “tomorrow,” when tomorrow arrives, its that much easier to delay further. Even when I sat down to write this article, I wanted to check if Picasso really said that quote, and ended up doing a bunch more “research” before I really got to the task of writing.
Perhaps it would be more honest to say “some day” or “one day” rather than “not today” since those carry more of the flavor of an indefinite delay. When I tell my wife I will accomplish something, but “not today,” she asks “if not now, when?” If I actually say “mañana” when she asks when I’m going to do a chore, she warns me that “mañana” better come way before eternity.
Paul Grahm (see here) suggests that procrastination is not something that can really be cured. He further suggests that there is actually good procrastination, that is when you put off working on one thing to work on something more important. In other words, that’s where you put off working on the small stuff so that you can accomplish the big stuff. He gives a good example of bad procrastination with the person who wants to write a novel, but doesn’t spend time sitting in front of a blank screen or blank page doing nothing. No, the bad procrastinator spends times doing errands around the house or surfing the web rather than sitting and writing.
But what Paul Grahm said that really caught my attention was that the procrastinators that put off working on small stuff to accomplish the big things are the most impressive people he knows. His definition of the small stuff is anything with no chance of being mentioned in your obituary. Which goes back to the quote from Picasso, saying the same thing in a different way.
What about you? Isn’t there at least one important thing you would like to accomplish while you still have the time to do so? Why not set some small stuff aside and work on something important, today.