By Laura James artsHub
We all put things off. We all procrastinate. But as Frank Partnoy says in his book, Wait: The Useful Art of Procrastination, this can serve a positive purpose.
In his introduction, Partnoy explains that “much recent research about decisions helps us understand what we should do or how we should do it, but it says little about when”. By drawing upon many studies conducted across disciplines as varied as economics and psychology, Partnoy attempts to cast some light on the complex relationship between decision-making and time, and answer the question: how long should someone wait before making a decision?
Focusing on situations as diverse as fire-fighting and first dates, Partnoy shows that delaying a decision to the last possible moment can often lead to optimal results. To illustrate this, he begins with explanations of delay that occur at a subconscious, physiological level and then proceeds to focus on conscious decisions, which allow for increasingly longer periods of consideration time.
Although the structure of Wait is made explicit from the outset, the opening chapters, which focus on primarily subconscious and physiological responses, while fascinating, can leave the reader feeling powerless as they cover actions we don’t necessarily have any control over. Thus, the reader spends the opening of Partnoy’s book reading about behaviour that cannot consciously be addressed. That said, Wait becomes truly thought-provoking once it turns to decisions we have enough time to consciously consider.
Drawing on a wealth of research that has never before appeared in the one place, Wait is the successful culmination of numerous studies and interviews done across varied disciplines, creating a coherent, well-rounded perspective of time’s effect on decision-making. The personable and informal voice Partnoy adopts in his discussion of this staggering amount of research material, helps ensure that the theory is easily understood despite the varying complexity of content, giving the reader a thorough understanding of the different types of decisions we make, why we rush them and what happens when we don’t. The amount of content Partnoy is able to cover so adeptly in his relatively short book is astonishing, and as well as prompting reflection on one’s own decision-making practices, consolidates the idea that a good decision is a well-timed decision, no matter the context.
In a world where the daily pressure to perform at an exceptional pace is constant and procrastination is considered the enemy of productivity, Wait: The Useful Art of Procrastination leaves the reader with a sense of relief and an affecting, new understanding: delay is good.