On the Illusion of Urgency

This week, so far, has been an exercise in postponement.

I’ve postponed three appointments, two blog posts, the mock defense of my thesis, and possibly a few other items I can’t recall at the moment.

And I have to say: it’s all been a major achievement—and one that took months for me accomplish.

Now I say that because if other people have issues because they procrastinate too much, I have issues arising from the other extreme—which is to produce too much. For years, I regarded empty moments like vacant billboards: put something there—put anything there—just don’t leave the b—– space blank!

To paraphrase a line I used in a previous post, I’d seize the day to the point of throttling it altogether.

Then some time last year, it began to occur to me that if I kept filling “the unforgiving minute” (as Rudyard Kipling once put it), I’d eventually end up having a very unforgiving life. That’s when the questions hit me: What am I rushing so much for? Why does everything need to get done today? Why do I eat too fast? Why do I count the minutes I spend with my friends? Why do I look at my watch incessantly? Why do I keep alarms for everything?

My immediate answer to all of the above was: to save time. If I do it now, if I do it fast, then I save the next minute, the next hour, the next day, the next month…

Which immediately led to the next question: for what am I saving all that time? For what am I hoarding this elusive, illusory creature called my future time?

And when I looked back, it struck me that all the time I’d ever saved had merely gone on to…saving even more time. I’d do my groceries today, so I wouldn’t have to do it tomorrow, and in that now vacant space, I’d end up doing something else that was supposed to be done the day after, which I’d fill by doing yet another thing scheduled for the next week…and so on and so forth, in countless, dreary iterations.

The sad thing is, it’s impossible to save time anyway (the characteristic that distinguishes it the most from other kinds of resources, I think). Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

So this week, when emergencies came up, I stopped and asked myself (for probably the first time in my life): do I really need to get this done today? And unsurprisingly, the answer most of the time was: no.

It’s been a disconcerting, unsettling and absolutely exhilarating experience.



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