Today I face two work deadlines, three weeks of laundry, four important phone calls and a school gardening club. My time is finely carved, yet there is one thing I know I shall devote myself to unstintingly: procrastination.
This week researchers announced that we waste three years of our lives and 69 minutes of our day putting off essential tasks. Some of us can squander as much as two hours in 24, especially if we are women and especially if we live in Cambridge. Now I am a woman and I once lived in Cambridge where, as I recall, we did indeed neglect needful chores such as stocking our larders and cleaning our rooms in order to fathom cosmic mysteries in The Bath inn.
I am therefore amply qualified to procrastinate and procrastinate I do with gusto, which is why I'm writing this blog post instead of rinsing the family smalls. I take issue, however, with idea that those of us who have perfected this art are wasting our lives. Why, while other people are toiling over their tax returns, I am totting up notional bills from The White Stuff catalogue. While they waste hours a week ironing tea towels I'm inflating the annual profits of Waterstones with assiduous novel-reading. The adrenalin rush the night before the tax return deadline gets the job done far more quickly than if I'd committed my leisure to the task in early summer - and everyone knows that tea towels don't need ironing.
My life is productive and fulfilled because I procrastinate. The French understand this. Last year they declared an International Procrastination Day, although celebrants were welcome to defer their festivities. 'To procrastinate,' said its founder David d'Equainville, 'is to refuse to do what the context - be it from bosses, administrative obligations or a culture of results - asks us to do. We absolutely must take the time to think about the tasks we accept to execute or else we will lose all control over our lives.'
He confirms what I have always known. Every day I take the time to think about making the beds. Come evening we are in them again, and I rejoice in my forbearance, for why smooth the duvets when, a few hours later, they'll be disordered again? Every day I contemplate my towering in-tray. When, weeks later, I get round to tackling it, most of the deadlines and requirements within have expired and can be effortlessly binned. When a household appliance breaks down I patiently work round it. The Vicar mocks my scientific theory, but it's a truth I've often experienced that ailing electrical equipment is healed by a nice long rest. Why, my printer sprang to life after a six-month coma. Only for half a morning, admittedly, but I'm hopeful another season of recuperation will fully resurrect it.
At 5pm most evenings I panic about what to feed the children because I've put off stocking the fridge. But, after a soothing hour of digging in my borders, I will invariably discover a carrot and a half emptied tin of proteins in an overlooked cupboard and the crisis - and supermarket drudgery - is averted.
Those who dismiss procrastination as laziness are benighted. It is simply a sensible savouring of the moment. Marcel Duchamps spent half a lifetime dawdling over a few surrealist art works but was hailed as a genius when he died. Marcel Proust turned procrastination into a literary art form and Douglas Adams famously relished the 'whoosh' of missed deadlines passing over his head.
Scientists have even come up with an equation for the habit U=EV/ID, which is mathematical proof that procrastinators are not ineffectual idlers, but strong minds who have mastered the skill of stretching time. If investment bankers had procrastinated a little more they might not have gambled the national economy. If governments dallied before they pronounced they would face fewer humiliating U-turns. And if you tea-towel ironers are still not persuaded, Shakespeare has the clincher, for as David d'Equainville says: 'If Romeo had put off his suicide a bit on Juliet's tomb, the two love birds could have grown old together.'
Are you an expert procrastinator? Have you suggestions of more 'essential' chores that can be painlessly put off?