Hang ups

30th December 1994 at 00:00
Procrastinate derives from the Latin cras which means tomorrow, according to The Concise Oxford Dictionary one of several applications published by the software division of Oxford University Press. I find them invaluable.

The Thesaurus, for instance, reveals that the many synonyms for procrastinate include temporise, dally, delay, stall, postpone, tergiversate and shilly-shally. The equally useful Dictionary of Quotations enables me to remind you that it was Don Marquis who said that "procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday" whatever that means.

Having the information permanently on the hard disc means it can be summoned in seconds, although, in this case, it's taken me a couple of hours. You know how it is: if you open a reference book especially a digitised one it's impossible to resist the temptation just to browse. And never more so than when you know there is something far more important that you ought to be doing. Since I seem to spend so much time not doing what I should and then being overwhelmed by guilt, my New Year's resolution is to cure myself. I don't mean, of course, that I'm going to stop procrastinating but I am going to stop feeling guilty about it.

There is much to be said in favour of concerted shilly-shallying. For one thing, the longer you postpone the moment when you have to face a difficult task or decision, the greater the chances of never having to face it at all. For instance, I know a teacher who refuses to look at her weekly accumulation of marking until after the Saturday evening Lottery draw. She argues that it would break her heart to plough through all those dreary exercise books only to discover that she was rich enough to employ battalions of liveried lackeys to do the marking for her. She isn't in the least bit perturbed by the odds of 14 million to 1. She simply follows the example set by Camelot and lets the unmarked books "roll over" from one week to the next.

Nowhere is procrastination more important than in the constantly evolving world of IT, where he who hesitates is always better off. It is, for example, never the right time to buy hardware or software. This Christmas, a decent computer will cost you about Pounds 1,200. This time next year, you'll probably be able to buy two for the same price. Not that you'll want to, because you can be certain that by then there will be even better machines on the market that you will be able to set your heart on not buying.

Equipment is not only constantly becoming cheaper but also so much easier to use. I speak as one who made the mistake of starting computers about a decade before I should. I slogged over Basic, or later, fretted through MS-Dos manuals when really all I should have done is waited until the arrival of Windows PCs and the even friendlier rival machines. Not that anybody should consider buying a PC running old-fashioned Windows when it makes much more sense to delay any decision until Microsoft launches Windows 95 and eventually Utopia, which they promise are going to make computing irresistibly simple . . .

Even then, serious procrastinators will not be hasty. They'll know that if they leave it a little longer they'll be offered, as standard, voice recognition, touch-screen control, virtual reality and all those other good things that will ultimately come to those who wait. So may I wish you a Happy New Year, rich in opportunities to avoid making all those decisions it's always wiser not to have made. And remember that whenever you feel an overwhelming urge not to do something useful, you can always turn to these Hang Ups columns instead. Of course, there might be a week when I don't bother to write one. But the odds on that happening are 14 million to one.

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