Is structured procrastination the cure to summer syndrome? 

Doesn’t it sometimes feel like getting things done is impossible when the weather changes? During winter it seems impossible to sit at a desk and work when all you want to do is drown yourself in a fluffy blanket, watch movies and drink hot chocolate. Summer for example, a time where days are longer, there are more hours to spend and more time to soak in the sun. A time for trying new activities like badminton in the park. 

Summer especially is when most students begin to feel ‘lazy’. A time where procrastination is at its highest, birthing a new mentality where we feel as though we can spend more time and energy on things like travelling, sunbathing and lounging with friends, rather than prioritising homework questions. 


Because there are more hours in the day for us to work, we neglect it. But news flash, we never end up spending those extra hours on work, so we’re left feeling lazy until the deadline is tomorrow and we haven’t started our homework. 

Because it’s usually the last block of the year where we’re counting down the days and weeks until we can see family, friends and indulge in guilty pleasures that are otherwise chastised during the year like spending 3 hours in bed mindlessly watching our friends begin their own summer vacations abroad because they’ve ended the year early. I call this ‘Summer Syndrome’. 

Can you resonate? Do you often find yourself spending more time on trivial tasks like grocery shopping and rearranging your desk, rather than using your desk? It’s not because you’re a serial procrastinator or have a lazy character. Not to freak you out but it might be because you're experiencing early symptoms of SAD. Not the emotion, but the acronym associated with seasonal affective disorder. 

SAD refers to a type of gloomy depression associated with changes in seasons. Changes in the weather often disguised as ‘Winter Blues’, have significant influences on your energy, mood and overall ‘drive’. So it’s understandable how it may seem that we become different people every season in terms of motivation and overall performance. 

This is because common symptoms of SAD get in the way of our normal performance, giving us a ‘sluggish brain’, symptoms which can look like the following:

  • Feeling listless, or down most of the day

  • Losing interest in most activities

  • Sleeping too much or too little

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Jittery 

Whilst the usual advice targeted in overcoming the swings of SAD we face hasn’t changed, we can apply a groundbreaking concept. A type of obvious concept where you think ‘wow I feel like I could’ve come up with that - really that’s groundbreaking?’, the same feeling you get when you learn about loss aversion. I mean it’s relatively obvious that we feel losses more intensely than we do gains, why is there a whole theory devoted to it?

Anyways, structured procrastination. 

A groundbreaking concept put forth by Mr. John Richard Perry. A Stanford professor and continuing contributor to Philosophy particularly in the fields of Philosophy of Language, Metaphysics, and Philosophy of Mind. His idea of structured procrastination is what you would classify as an older one, particularly as old as being coined in 1995. Although, it’s gained popularity over the years as a new wave of ‘work-life balance’ washes over us. 

Structured procrastination encourages us to turn procrastination into an asset that makes us “useful citizens” (Perry, 1995). This is because we can adopt a mindset, which comfortably allows us to delay our mega-important tasks, by engaging in less important, but equally productive tasks without feeling the guilt of procrastination. That’s the beauty of it, procrastination is disguised as medial smaller tasks of less significance.

By organising our tasks in a hierarchy (this is a good time to make a list) where the most important ones are at the top, and lesser ones at the bottom, serial procrastinators can work their way up rather than down. Like climbing a ladder. This allows us to accomplish less critical tasks whilst simultaneously avoiding the pressing ones. But what difference does this make? 

You’re probably thinking, I can do the small tasks just fine, I do that normally, what exactly differentiates this structured hierarchy from my usual approach? 

With this hierarchical perspective, we complete tasks without skipping others. Let’s be visual about this, imagine you write up a normal list, the most important task at the top as usual. You begin completing small tasks to avoid the ‘big one’ but without structure. You do task 3, then feel like doing task 8, but now you feel like doing task 6. As you work through these tasks, your list looks incomplete. You may be getting things done, but not in order. So it looks like a lazy attempt at tackling your tasks as you skip lines of tasks over the other. 

With structured procrastination, you're essentially doing the same thing, but with order. As you work your way from bottom to top, accomplishment builds. These small accomplishments create some sort of adrenaline-fueled momentum. The pride you feel, whether you realise it or not, carries you over whatever invisible barrier you face between accomplishing the ‘big’ task, and procrastinating it. And this momentum allows you to finally start and finish the ‘big’ task, and you’re likely to finish it in one sitting because you feel ‘well I’ve done everything else, what’s one more task?’. 

This view of procrastination, where we apply structure and order (an organised person’s favourite two words) to our tasks, enables us to increase productivity, even if it’s by picking up mail instead of outlining an upcoming essay. The increased productivity builds a sense of achievement that deceives us into thinking we’re more than capable of getting things done, even in poor weather. A time I believe structured procrastination proves rather useful. 

This concept remains groundbreaking because it doesn’t chastise a completely normal habit we all face once in a while. Rather than labelling procrastination as lazy, it leans into the natural avoidance we face as important tasks feel big and scary to accomplish (they’re usually not). Instead, it utilises procrastination to counteract the consequences of avoiding the ‘big’ task. 

The original literature by Perry (1995) is quite interesting to read in addition to this short article, particularly due to his humorous anecdotes that all the more normalise these negatively-labelled feelings of procrastination. I recommend it not just to get to know the Professor’s humour and ideology, but to use it as evidence next time someone comes up to you and complains that you’re lazy - you’re not lazy, you’re a “useful citizen” practising structured procrastination (unless you really are lazy).

About this article

Written by:
  • Daria Haidar
| Published on: Jun 12, 2024