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Modular Procrastination

April 20th, 2007 · 7 Comments

So I assume this is self-evident to anyone who routinely avails themeselves of the Internets, which is, by definition, pretty much everyone reading this, but: One of the reasons the Net is so lethal to productivity seems to be the way it facilitates modular procrastination. That is, it used to be that if you were in the midst of getting something medium-sized done, most of the available modes of procrastination involved a fairly clear up-front time commitment. If you felt the urge to read a magazine or book, or do some cleaning, or call a friend, or watch a TV show or movie, or whatever, you were clearly allocating a good half-hour plus to that, and could weigh the extent of its interference with your task accordingly.

The Net, however, offers half a million ways to procrastinate that, at each decision point, you can tell yourself “will just take a couple minutes.” Oh, I’m just going to check my email, refresh my RSS feed, IM that friend I haven’t talked to in a while who just signed on, see what’s up on Facebook, watch the new Strong Bad Email, take a gander at this funny YouTube link, et multa cetera. It adds up to just as much time spent dicking around, but in increments that seem individually negligible. It’s presumably the same trouble many folk have quitting smoking: This one additional cigarette won’t make a difference, but they’re all “this one” cigarette.

Tags: Personal



7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 jadagul // Apr 20, 2007 at 2:48 am

    Nitpick: it should be “multa cetera,” not “multae cetera.”

  • 2 Christopher M // Apr 20, 2007 at 3:17 am

    Dammit, I was going to make the previous commenter’s point. Now how am I going to fill up the next minute or two?

  • 3 Brian // Apr 20, 2007 at 4:41 am

    I was already procrastinating in reading this (having just logged off Facebook, which I was routed to by an email alert), and now you had to go and remind me that I haven’t seen a Strong Bad email in over a month. Here goes another ten minutes. Right now, the internet seems to be great at creating not only modular procrastination, but cascading procrastination.

  • 4 laurex // Apr 20, 2007 at 7:33 am

    Perhaps you could turn this into some kind of doctoral thesis. Oh, wait.

  • 5 michael farris // Apr 20, 2007 at 8:29 am

    “Right now, the internet seems to be great at creating not only modular procrastination, but cascading procrastination”

    I’d say it’s prone to enabling catastrophic cascading procrastination (as a fully integrated lifestyle).

  • 6 Rob // Apr 20, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    Sounds like a Sorites Paradox theory of procrastination; we can’t tell at what point an additional moment of distraction will turn into a heap of wasted time.

  • 7 PhD // May 20, 2007 at 4:00 am

    Part of it is that computers suck — you have to wrap your mind around the machine, rather than the other way around. It’s easy to get distracted this way.

    One effort to fix that is Thing That Think.