I’ll Never Be a Pre-crastinator

In my world, a successful Sunday is defined not by a Broncos win but by the opportunity to read more than half of our New York Times without being interrupted. And if I read a particularly well-written Op-Ed piece in that rare window of quietude, the victory is that much sweeter.

So what a pleasure to see the article from Adam Grant, “Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate,” in The Review section of this week’s Times. Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, generally writes about the psychology of business, which I find fascinating. This time, the subject was near and dear: procrastination.

I’ll concede that there might be some truth to the accusation that I am, indeed, something of a kind of procrastinator. I do tend to delay tasks until the due date raps bare knuckled on my door. But what I love about the article is how it strengthens what I have been saying all along: that delaying a task (e.g., writing a blog post) generally gives me more time to consider it. That a pause for reflection generates a higher quality result in creative endeavors that require a certain amount of mental accomplishment, like writing a paper or finishing a business project.

Now “pre-crastination,” which Grant describes as the impetus to complete a task as soon as it’s defined (his natural state), will never be my Modus Operandi. Finishing a project weeks ahead of time? Naw. But neither will you find me waiting to the very last minute.

In either of these extremes, Grant writes, the research shows that the creative impulse is lessened, either because there’s not enough time relegated to thinking about new ideas (as with pre-crastination) or not enough time remaining to avoid falling for the easy answers (the result of extreme procrastination). So it’s with great relief that I find myself habitually within the creative red zone. Not too early but not too late. Procrastination as a positive force.

I highly doubt this article will pass as justification for the unfinished basement project, but it may just buy me enough time to finish the rest of the Sunday paper.

Missing a Letter?

As a small child, few songs had as much power over my imagination as the classic Sesame Street jingle “Silent E,” written and composed by Tom Lehrer. It was hilarious to watch, easy to memorize, and a solid lesson on just how precious each letter is to the whole meaning of the word. For your enjoyment:

Fast forward to the present. Fed from a sturdy diet of William Safire’s “On Language” column and NPR’s puzzle master Will Shortz, I have become an avowed Word Geek.

Back to Silent E. As I said, removing a single letter can have dramatic impact on the word’s meaning, and I’ve been collecting examples recently where a “good” word takes on more sinister tones when a letter goes missing. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Brother and bother
  • Friend and fiend
  • Affluent and effluent
  • Focal and fecal
  • Moral and morel

See how it goes? If you can think of other examples, send them my way.

Side note:  I see this as different from phone autocorrect issues, where more than a single letter is replaced. There are some hilarious examples of that here:  http://www.damnyouautocorrect.com.