Chancellor's Friday Letters

Awarded: The virtue of manana

Awarded: The virtue of manana

November 4, 2011

Dear Friends,

I suspect we each find many times in our personal and professional lives when we need to prioritize the tasks in front of us.  Which one(s) now?  Which can I put off to later?  Which can I delegate elsewhere?  Which can I say, “No” to or ignore?

Many would argue that the ability to strategically focus and prioritize is a key trait to succeeding in getting important tasks accomplished, and being a productive member of society.

Or is it the sage and savvy use of procrastination?

How could it be that a procrastinator – aka a task-avoidance specialist – becomes viewed as productive by those around him or her?

Well, the recent recognition of a UCR faculty member may shed some light on this issue that we confront daily.

UCR Professor John Perry is also the Henry Waldgrave Stuart Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, at Stanford University.  His academic areas of specialty include philosophy of language and the philosophy of mind.

Professor Perry was recognized recently with the 21st annual Ig Nobel Award in Literature, which was given – by three Nobel laureates – at Harvard University’s Sanders Theater.

The Ig Nobel Prizes began in 1991 as a spoof on the Nobel Prize sponsored by the science-humor magazine, Annals of Improbable Research.  The awards have an educational purpose: to honor research that at first may evoke a light-hearted response, but upon reflection make people think more deeply.

The mainstream media often tend to take some of the improbable research at face value, leading people to dismiss them.  But the projects, like that of Professor Perry, often provide profound insight into the ways of the world and the way we function in it.

Professor Perry won the Ig Nobel Prize for Literature for his Theory of Structured Procrastination, which holds that the “procrastinator can be a high achiever and motivated to do difficult, timely, and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something even more important.”

Dr. Perry expounded this theory in a 1996 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “How to Procrastinate and Still Get Things Done,” which was cited as the reason for the somewhat belated awarding of the Ig Nobel Prize … apparently the prize committee procrastinated for 15 years!

In an interview with the Chronicle last month, Professor Perry confessed,

“One day I was deeply depressed about procrastinating, and I thought, it’s kind of funny because everybody at Stanford thinks I’m somebody who gets a lot of stuff done…How can that be?”

He realized that in the course of avoiding seemingly important duties that he’d laid out for himself, he had diverted his energy to any number of other tasks and had inadvertently become quite productive.

“All my fantastic contributions to understanding the human condition as a philosopher seem to have had minimal impact compared to this thing,” said Mr. Perry, who receives a couple of confessionary e-mails each week from fellow shirkers.

Mr. Perry advises procrastinators to make a list of the many things they hope to accomplish, and then place a goal like Learn Chinese at the very top. “You have to have good self-deceptive skills,” he said. “That’s key.”

Somewhere along the way, no doubt while avoiding some more pressing matter, Mr. Perry set to work expanding his essay into a book. “But of course I never finished it,” he said.

Evidently it rose to the top of his to-do list, and there it remains.

Something to ponder…when you get around to it.



Tim White, Chancellor

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Top gun to fly over campus Saturday
The UCR Libraries annual Tuskegee fundraiser takes place tomorrow.  It honors military heroes from the famed Tuskegee Experience in Alabama, which trained the first African-American pilots between 1943 and 1945.  As a prelude to the celebration, actor Tom Cruise, who starred in the film “Top Gun,” will send his fully restored P-51 plane for a flyover at the UCR campus between 1:30 and 2 p.m. – just before the program begins. The P-51 was one of the primary airplanes flown in combat by the Tuskegee Airmen.

Bollywood spin at Chancellor’s Dinner
My thanks to all who attended last Saturday’s Chancellor’s Dinner on campus. Nakul Dev Mahajan, one of our alumni award winners, is a choreographer of Bollywood-style dance for “So You Think You Can Dance.” He had us up on our feet and shaking our heads. See pictures and videos from the event here:

Refresh your knowledge about climate change
Next week experts on the science of climate change will be on hand to answer questions about climate change. Parents and children will also be able to enjoy games and activities at Refresh Riverside! A Community Climate, There is free parking and free food for the event, which takes place 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12 on the lawn near Pierce Hall.

What else is happening on campus?  View: http://happenings.ucr.edu

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