Procrastination is the delicious attempt to stave off the inevitable by doing nothing. It now forms part of my job description.
I’m not talking about the high-minded idea of watchful waiting. That’s when we’re supposed to wait for a patient’s symptoms to either wilt away or bloom into a recognisable disease. That’s good practice. What I’m talking about is good old-fashioned procrastination, the type we indulged in at university. That’s the art of delaying even when we know it will make us anxious, of doing something much more enjoyable, like watching countdown or drinking beer, even when the task nibbles away at us. Delaying until the unhappy errand becomes urgent.
To illustrate this, I’ve got a great grey scree of employment support allowance forms, or ESA for short, in my pigeon hole. I let them gather dust for a couple of weeks before forcing myself to look at them. I rationalise my slothfulness by saying that it will all be done in the fullness of time.
The current system means that patients who are too lazy to work and often too lazy to make up a reasonable excuse not to, get called up for an assessment by the DWP. If they’re able to lift a box, stand on one leg and sing ‘La Marseillaise’ they’re fit to work.
‘Unfair!’, they cry. ‘I’m down in the dumps, I had disc surgery 30 years ago and I haven’t worked since my paper round so I can’t possibly be expected to get a job!’
And so they contest it. The DWP then procrastinates by sending it to tribunal. The department’s procrastination though doesn’t stop there, it inevitably leads to mine, because I have to complete a lot of extra forms and I do my best to put off this putrescent pile of papery heart-sink.
Procrastination is seen as a bad thing, it steals our time, it’s immoral, we don’t accomplish or achieve. We’re seen as weak-willed or incapable, limp, inept and inert. But when it’s the system itself that is weak-willed, we’re forced to follow its lead.
Most of these patients will have their appeals turned down and they’ll have to get a part time job at Mecca bingo or paint the fences in the park. But due process needs to be worked through first. As the DWP procrastinates, society limps on and the wounded music plays, but it isn’t all bad. If only our politicians could quell their incessant thirst for change and indulge in a luxuriant spell of procrastination for once. By leaving things untouched they may just begin to work.
At least that’s how I justify the dust in my pigeon hole.
Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Aberdeen