Good Procrastination and Bad Thinking?

Monday, March 28, 2011

I came across a couple of very interesting takes on a couple of subjects generally regarded as bad and good, respectively: procrastination and thinking.

The first such article is one that discusses "good procrastination," written several years ago by Paul Graham.

There are three variants of procrastination, depending on what you do instead of working on something: you could work on (a) nothing, (b) something less important, or (c) something more important. That last type, I'd argue, is good procrastination.


[T]he most impressive people I know are all procrastinators. ... They're type-C procrastinators: they put off working on small stuff to work on big stuff.


The mildest seeming people, if they want to do real work, all have a certain degree of ruthlessness when it comes to avoiding [small stuff].
Graham has much more to say about procrastination, so I recommend reading the whole thing. More interesting to me is why this point struck me as unusual: The term "procrastination" actually covers lots of territory, and yet most people are really thinking only of the bad kinds of procrastination when they evaluate it.

Switching over from good procrastination to bad thinking, I found many interesting points in Scott Berkun's, "Why Smart People Defend Bad Ideas." While I don't agree with everything he says there, I think his broad points are in the right direction. I'll list them here by heading in bold, followed by a quote on each point:
  • [Past Practice and S]uccess at Defending Bad Ideas -- If the people you're arguing with aren't as comfortable in the tactics of argument, or aren't as arrogant as you are, they may even give in and agree with you.
  • Death [of Rigorous Checking] by [Group] Homogeny -- [T]he more homogeneous a group of people are in their thinking, the narrower the range of ideas that the group will openly consider.
  • Thinking at the Wrong Level -- "Um, hey. The hole you're digging is very nice, and it is the right size. But you're in the wrong yard."
  • Killed in the Long Term by Short Term Thinking -- [S]hort term bits of data are neither reliable nor a wise way to go about making important long term decisions.
Berkun ends with defusing tactics for those confronted by a Smart Person advocating a Bad Idea. Essentially, this boils down to asserting one's right to make a deliberate decision with all the facts at his disposal, and any advice one needs. He closes with a nice-looking list of references.

This piece shows up on the sidebar of Berkun's blog as one of his most popular posts, and I think its popularity is justified. It offers both (1) worthwhile advice for anyone who wants to improve his thinking in group settings by becoming aware of how he might inadvertently be depriving himself of constructive criticism, as well as (2) a sort of self-defense primer for anyone who finds himself confronted, say, at work by a bunch of people getting ready to act on a Bad Idea.

-- CAV

----- In Other News -----

En route to adjusting a new water heater so I could enjoy hot showers, I uncovered this helpful hint and thought I'd pass it on.
While you see the EPA recommending that water heaters be set at 120 degrees F to save energy, OSHA recommends a tank temperature of 140 degrees F. This is because at lower temperatures, your water heater can become an incubator for the Legionella bacteria, the cause of Legionnaire's disease. With the ideal growth range being 95 to 115 degrees F, you can see how that would be so. [minor edits]
I guess it ain't easy -- or healthy -- being green:

"The phrase 'I don't have time for' should never be said." -- Scott Berkun. I disagree. This can be a polite way to avoid saying, "I have a higher priority than that," or, "How I spend my time is none of your damned business." But you should know for yourself -- in terms of your own priorities -- why you're playing close to the vest. Scott Berkun does make several useful points at the above link.

Long-Neglected Experiment Gives New Clues to Origin of Life: "A classic experiment that has sat on the shelf for more than a half-century is yielding new clues about how life may have arisen on Earth, according to a team of scientists that has gone back and analyzed the data with modern techniques."


Lynne said...

I disagree with you regarding the use of "I don't have time for . . ." I don't think it's more polite. I think it suggests an excuse for something I don't need to justify: the use of my time. I prefer to just say no, or I can't. It really communicates all I want to say or all anyone else needs to know. Unless, of course, I want to engage the other person in a discussion of how best to use my time (which sometimes is the case within our household), then it makes sense for me to open that door.

Gus Van Horn said...

"I think it suggests an excuse for something I don't need to justify: the use of my time."

Thanks for pointing that out. I stand corrected!