In a new book, University of San Diego professor Frank Partnoy argues that the key to success is waiting for the last possible moment to make a decision
| In his new book, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, Frank Partnoy claims that when faced with a decision, we should assess how long we have to make it, and then wait until the last possible moment to do so.|
Book jacket: Courtesy of Pete Garceau; Portrait: Courtesy of Fergus Greer
Sometimes life seems to happen at warp speed. But, decisions, says Frank Partnoy, should not. When the financial market crashed in 2008, the former investment banker and corporate lawyer, now a professor of finance and law and co-director of the Center for Corporate and Securities Law at the University of San Diego, turned his attention to literature on decision-making.
“Much recent research about decisions helps us understand what we should do or how we should do it, but it says little about when,” he says.
In his new book, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, Partnoy claims that when faced with a decision, we should assess how long we have to make it, and then wait until the last possible moment to do so. Should we take his advice on how to “manage delay,” we will live happier lives.
It is not surprising that the author of a book titled Wait is a self-described procrastinator. In what ways do you procrastinate?
I procrastinate in just about every possible way and always have, since my earliest memories going back to when I first starting going to elementary school and had these arguments with my mother about making my bed.
My mom would ask me to make my bed before going to school. I would say, no, because I didn’t see the point of making my bed if I was just going to sleep in it again that night. She would say, well, we have guests coming over at 6 o’clock, and they might come upstairs and look at your room. I said, I would make my bed when we know they are here. I want to see a car in the driveway. I want to hear a knock on the door. I know it will take me about one minute to make my bed so at 5:59, if they are here, I will make my bed.
I procrastinated all through college and law school. When I went to work at Morgan Stanley, I was delighted to find that although the pace of the trading floor is frenetic and people are very fast, there were lots of incredibly successful mentors of procrastination.
Now, I am an academic. As an academic, procrastination is practically a job requirement. If I were to say I would be submitting an academic paper by September 1, and I submitted it in August, people would question my character.
It has certainly been drilled into us that procrastination is a bad thing. Yet, you argue that we should embrace it. Why?
Historically, for human beings, procrastination has not been regarded as a bad thing. The Greeks and Romans generally regarded procrastination very highly. The wisest leaders embraced procrastination and would basically sit around and think and not do anything unless they absolutely had to.
The idea that procrastination is bad really started in the Puritanical era with Jonathan Edwards’s sermon against procrastination and then the American embrace of “a stitch in time saves nine,” and this sort of work ethic that required immediate and diligent action.
But if you look at recent studies, managing delay is an important tool for human beings. People are more successful and happier when they manage delay. Procrastination is just a universal state of being for humans. We will always have more things to do than we can possibly do, so we will always be imposing some sort of unwarranted delay on some tasks. The question is not whether we are procrastinating, it is whether we are procrastinating well.