The art of postponing

Do not do today what you can do tomorrow

Published in El Pais, 30 June 2018.

A few months ago, a student from one of the classes that I teach did not turn in her work on time, and I was aware of this lack at the time of recording the notes in the system. As this work weighed a lot on the final grade, I ask the girl why she did not hand in the work. She replied that there was a family visit on the weekend and she postponed until the last moment, but in the end, she did not have time to finish. Needless to say,  that I was perplexed that someone gave me an excuse like this, especially because now there was the risk that she would fail for this class.

I wonder, why so many people have elevated procrastination to an almost artistic level? Once I read a phrase on a ceramic in Tarija that said: “Do not do today what you can do tomorrow”. Obviously, a funny reference to the opposite saying.

Another part that surprises me, and that happens a lot in the countries of Latin America, is the disrespect for deadlines. I always thought that when the delivery date is July 1st, it is July 1st. However, in Latin America, time is elastic, nothing is carved in stone. Thus, it is also very normal for a student to hand in his work the day after, sometimes accompanied by a cheap excuse, but others deliver it cynically without justifying their delay.

The problem is that in many cases we accept delays without penalties, fines, etc. and we thus maintain the bad habit of not respecting the deadlines. But this is not all. Human beings are bad in estimates. When you ask someone when they are going to finish a certain job, they will always tell you the most optimistic time, which is synonymous to the impossible. We say this to not disappoint the person with the request. Both people know that it is not realistic and thus impossible, but we still accept the optimistic estimate.

Perhaps my European genes prejudice me to understand the real significance of deadlines here in Bolivia. Maybe handing in until tomorrow, means the same as the day or the week after, and that denying my students this ‘flexibility’ is a violation of cultural custom.

However, it is always a relief when a store or a student turn in their work at the agreed time and I believe that, if someone wants to be successful as a professional, a good quality aspect is to respect deadlines and deliveries on time.

About Arnold Hagens 94 Articles
Arnold Hagens is Economist with strong interest in technology, marketing and coaching

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