Procrastination – the enemy of productivity. You have something important to get done. You keep putting it off. You wait until the last minute. You tell yourself you’re going to do it…tomorrow.
Sound familiar? It sure does to me.
We’re all guilty of procrastinating, and as many as 20 percent of us may be chronic procrastinators.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably also spent a lot of time exploring ways you can eliminate this bad habit from your life.
But is procrastination really all bad?
Let’s take a look at the way procrastination works and why, if used correctly, it can sometimes lead to greater productivity and happiness.
Procrastination gets a bad rap.
We work in a result-driven world that admires things like hard work, efficiency, and productivity. Everywhere you turn, someone’s writing about habits, tools, and tips you can use to avoid, overcome and fight procrastination.
The truth is, we tend to think of procrastinators as lazy people who waste time and make excuses instead of tackling the tasks at hand. As a result, we think of procrastination as a negative habit.
However, it might surprise you to find out that not all procrastination behaviors are considered to lead to harmful consequences.
Procrastination, in itself, is simply postponing an action. The trouble most people have with procrastination comes from the idea that if you are delaying action than you must not be making any progress.
But this isn’t always the case.
An example of active procrastination might be delaying one action for another that you consider more valuable. Passive procrastination, on the other hand, might be to postpone getting started on a work project and watching Downton Abbey instead.
In a way, we’re always delaying one action for another. In this way, procrastination could be looked at as a matter of priority.
As Frank Partnoy says:
“The question is not whether we are procrastinating, it is whether we are procrastinating well.”
With that in mind, here are 5 reasons why putting off something until tomorrow could actually be the right choice.
1. It’s more efficient.
It may sound counterintuitive, but embracing procrastination can actually make you use your time more efficiently. In reality, many of us spend more time than necessary on tasks that could be done in a couple of hours. Instead of doing two hours of work over eight hours, try to be more pragmatic about the way you work.
Tell yourself that you’re going to do other things until you have to get your work done, and then do it when the time comes without feeling guilty. You’ll do the same work in the same amount of time, and you’ll be happier.
2.You make better decisions about priority.
Entrepreneur and investor Paul Graham, breaks down procrastination into 3 types depending on what you decide to do instead:
- you do nothing
- you do something less important
- you do something more important
In his mind, the last option is an example of good procrastinators – people who don’t sweat the small stuff and instead, focus on bigger tasks. In other words, good procrastination is avoiding errands to do real work.
The benefits are pretty easy to spot in the long run. Instead of filling the day with doing laundry, writing emails, or cleaning your house – we could choose to spend our time making progress on the work that’s most important for us.
In the end, you’ll end up doing more work that matters to you and you’ll probably end up doing a better job.
3. It makes you more creative.
Not sure where to jump in?
Carson Tate of Working Simply believes in high-performance procrastination. She says that putting off starting may be a sign that your ideas just aren’t ready yet. A brain on time-out has an easier time of coming up with new, creative ideas.
“High-performance procrastinators use another task or project to stimulate their thinking on all of their projects and tasks. Procrastination actually assists us in getting the work done at the ideal time.”
Similarly, Stanford University professor of philosophy John Perry, says we tend to focus on a task subconsciously even if we postpone it to do something else. When we finally do get down to business, we find ourselves full of good ideas that wouldn’t have been there from the start.
4. You get more insight into your work.
Procrastination can actually help you find bottlenecks in your workflow and identify what tasks you may subconsciously feel are not valuable.
Paul Graham gives a great example from Richard Hamming’s essay You and Your Research. When you find yourself delaying work, Hamming suggests asking yourself 3 questions:
Another way of looking at this is: “What’s the most important thing I could be working on, and why aren’t I?
You might find you feel overwhelmed by the size of a task or realize what jobs you’re not confident with. By taking a step back and exploring the reasons behind your hesitation, you’ll find new ways to improve your working habits and discover areas where you might want to consider asking for help.
5. The work might disappear.
Busy work is, more often than not, unnecessary. When you put off doing this type of unappealing task, more often than not – it simply goes away.
I often add things to my to-do list that seem important at the time, but end up getting postponed. Over time, I’ve found that they get replaced by other more pressing (and necessary) tasks, and as long as it doesn’t affect the rest of my team, I can usually scrap them.
Putting off the right kind of work can save you time you would have ended up wasting on a task that was unnecessary.
At the end of the day, there’s no right way to procrastinate or for that matter, to get your work done. Your own time is – well, your own. Whether you work better slowly step by step or tend to do your best as the clock ticks down to your deadline – it’s about the method that works best for you.
The point is that procrastination is common, it happens, and it’s not necessarily as bad as it’s been made out to be.
Image: Emilie Ogez