Among the list of problems that plague college students particularly hard, procrastination might be the most worst. The volume of advice on coping with the habit makes it clear that the problem has been exacerbated by technology, though it’s not really a modern problem. History has its own fair share of chronic procrastinators, many of whom are usually remembered not as lazy roustabouts, but as prolific artists, thinkers and businessmen, and looking at their stories can offer valuable lessons for dealing with procrastination, or at least make you feel better after a particularly lazy relapse.
So whether you’re having trouble starting that paper, beginning that project or deciding whether to get groceries now or in 20 minutes, the lives of these five famous procrastinators can help you kick the habit.
1. Victor Hugo
Most famous for penning “Les Miserables,” the French author and poet was also a famous socialite who attended parties as a way of delaying his work. In what is likely an apocryphal story, Hugo’s publisher, fed up with his delayed work deadlines, instituted a strict deadline for the author by which he was expected to deliver his manuscript.
In a last ditch attempt to focus, Hugo instructed his servant to lock away all of his socializing wardrobe, leaving him with no excuse to dodge his writing duties. The resulting work was “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” a masterpiece of French literature.
So if your state of mind is easily effected by external distractions, trying Hugo’s method of social isolation (at least for a couple hours) could greatly improve your productivity. If nothing else, it’ll help you clean out your wardrobe.
2. Leonardo Da Vinci
The prototypical Renaissance man and the progenitor of many a world-changing idea, Da Vinci embodies the brilliant influencer that everyone associates with inhuman efficiency. As evidenced by the upwards of 16 years that it took him to complete the “Mona Lisa” though, it’s clear that even Da Vinci wasn’t a paragon of productivity. In his defense, the painting is arguably the most famous in human history.
Nonetheless, the enigmatic portrait is also one of the only completed works of Da Vinci’s, as he left many of his paintings incomplete, showing that even geniuses struggle with procrastination.
From the many drafts left behind by Da Vinci, some are said to be just as beautiful as his completed pieces. The works demonstrate that constructive work is never wasteful, even if it goes unfinished. So the next time you find yourself abandoning yet another blog, don’t be so hard on yourself—Da Vinci did it too.
3. Tenzin Gyatso
Better known as the fourteenth Dalai Lama and the spiritual leader of millions, Tenzin Gyatso is one of the most influential people on Earth. Though Gyatso himself is not a historical figure yet, the post of Dalai Lama extends far into the past, making his battle against procrastination a testament to the power of “manaña.”
As a student Gyatso found himself dealing with the boredom of college academia. Leaving most matters until the last minute, the Dalai Lama had the oh-so-familiar college tendency of finishing things the night before they were due. Even though as a student the Dalai Lama experienced troubles with accomplishing goals, in advanced age Gyatso advocates a considerably more reasonable lifestyle.
After earning the equivalent of a doctorate in Buddhism, the Dalai Lama now instructs the habit of daily goal-setting to avoid the addictive lethargy of procrastination.
4. Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Everyone had to read Coleridge’s “The Ancient Mariner” one time or another, and the eighteenth century Romantic poet’s works still feature prominently in education. Even in his own time, Coleridge was lauded for his way with words.
Despite the universal acclaim though, the poet had trouble starting on new projects, finding it hard to focus on his writing. His most famous poem, “Kubla Khan,” remains incomplete. His incessant drug use probably didn’t help though.
5. Margaret Atwood
Known for being unusually prolific, Canada’s de facto ambassador describes her struggle with procrastination as a daily one. With her portfolio and decorated career, it seems unlikely that Atwood would have a problem with procrastination, but the author herself has said that the majority of her beginning hours deal with getting past the initial string of procrastination.
For Atwood, procrastination is not an unpredictable habit, but a regular part of a daily schedule that involves a prolonged rest period before actual work gets done. As Atwood proves, clearing your head before sitting down to work is a good idea for anyone who gets stressed out by deciding what to do first when facing a mountain of work.
6. Marcus Aurelius
Although not a chronic procrastinator, the Roman emperor, general and philosopher carried enormous influence in his life and carries even more in his death, advocating a perspective based on the limited amount of time everyone has on Earth.
For Aurelius, everything has a natural limit, including life, and recognizing that simple truth allows you to switch off the habit of staying stuck in inactivity. Aurelius’ statements reflect the Dalai Lama’s viewpoint of planning each day so you have no regrets about it being your last.