Friday, July 17, 2009

Samuel Johnson, Note-taking, and Procrastination

Samuel Johnson published on June 29, 1751 an essay on procrastination in The Rambler. In it, he dealt with procrastination for the sake of idleness and the more insidious kind of procrastination that might well exhibit itself in note-taking at the expense of writing:

"There are other causes of inactivity incident to more active faculties and more acute discernment. He to whom many objects of pursuit arise at the same time, will frequently hesitate between different desires till a rival has precluded him, or change his course as new attractions prevail, and harass himself without advancing. He who sees different ways to the same end, will, unless he watches carefully over his own conduct, lay out too much of his attention upon the comparison of probabilities and the adjustment of expedients, and pause in the choice of his road, till some accident intercepts his journey. He whose penetration extends to remote consequences, and who, whenever he applies his attention to any design, discovers new prospects of advantage and possibilities of improvement, will not easily be persuaded that his project is ripe for execution; but will superadd one contrivance to another, endeavour to unite various purposes in one operation, multiply complications, and refine niceties, till he is entangled in his own scheme, and bewildered in the perplexity of various intentions. He that resolves to unite all the beauties of situation in a new purchase must waste his life in roving to no purpose from province to province. He that hopes in the same house to obtain every convenience may draw plans and study Palladio, but will never lay a stone. He will attempt a treatise on some important subject, and amass materials, consult authors, and study all the dependent and collateral parts of learning, but never conclude himself qualified to write. He that has abilities to conceive perfection will not easily be content without it; and, since perfection cannot be reached, will lose the opportunity of doing well in the vain hope of unattainable excellence."

Perfectionism and Procrastination are closely connected.

2 comments:

EAU said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anatolica said...

This is one of the most impressive statements I have ever read on non-writing: which is a real deal-breaker in academia, as well as in life at general. Seeking for the ultimate perfection which is not there -absent, actually- accumulates a louder and louder voice of inner criticism, which cripples the person, leading him/her avoiding the actual implementation of anything. This is inertia (and I really know what Johnson means. indeed.).

Thanks for sharing this wonderful post. I enjoy reading your blog.

note: sorry for the deleted comment; gone awry

Bst wishes,
Emre Ayca