3. George Akerlof Turns Procrastination Into An Academic Field
Any man can put off doing something for as long as feasibly possible, but it takes a special kind of man to be curious enough about their own laziness to write an academic paper on it. Meet George Akerlof. A respected economist, Akerlof managed to turn his own procrastination into a Nobel Prize–winning career.
The setting is India, and the date is the early 1990s. Akerlof was living on the subcontinent at the time when his friend Joseph Stiglitz came to visit. When his vacation ended, Stiglitz left but forgot to pack some shirts. He asked Akerlof to mail them over to him. Akerlof agreed, only to keep putting it off. He put off mailing the box for eight whole months and finally came to two conclusions: Stiglitz probably no longer wanted to be his friend, and procrastination was something worth rigorous academic study.
The thing was, Akerlof had the best of intentions. He really did mean to send the box, yet he didn’t. His breakthrough was to realize that this strange, irrational action could be applied to behavioral economics. In a 1991 paper called “Procrastination and Obedience,” Akerlof used his own tardiness to make assumptions about how populations might act in certain situations. The academic world went wild.
In the years since, procrastination has become a vast field of study, both within the realm of economics and without. Akerlof went on to win the Nobel Prize in 2001 for his contributions. And Stiglitz, you’ll be happy to know, eventually got his shirts back.