I have a friend who considers herself to be a terrible procrastinator and yet she is one of the most productive people I know. If you look up stuff on procrastination online, you’ll get all sorts of information on how bad it is to procrastinate and how you can overcome this horrid tendency in 5 easy steps.
So if procrastination is so bad, how is it that my friend can be so productive? Maybe we have it all wrong, maybe procrastination is actually a good thing.
First lets look at what procrastination is. Various sites define procrastination as “the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of more pleasurable ones.” It is also defined as “the act or habit of procrastinating, or putting off or delaying especially something requiring immediate attention.” “To postpone or delay needlessly.”
Now this friend of mine fits the bill to a T. If she has something that just has to be done for work and she doesn’t want to do it, she’ll do anything else instead. When she should be working the weekend on a report, she’ll spend the time tidying her place, cleaning, doing errands, laundry, almost anything other than doing the report.
If you notice the definitions of procrastination and the description of my friend’s activities, you’ll notice something interesting. Procrastinators are not people who do nothing, they just happen to do things in an order that would seem to be counter-productive, less important before more important.
And when I look at it that way, procrastination doesn’t seem all that bad. You’re still getting stuff done, just perhaps not in the order that would seem to make sense.
I think this friend of yours may do a million other things to assauge the guilt of not doing what she is supposed to be doing. It’s a guilt-avoidance tactic. So you can feel productive, er, just not on what you’re supposed to be productive about.
If you sit around and do nothing when you really should be doing something, you feel terrible and it gets even harder to start.
Good tactic for guilt avoidance then. I procrastinate when I hate doing things and I find it actually helps to procrastinate, but more on that later.
I was gonna post a comment last week… but, y’know, something came up and, well… anyways?
Obviously, I procrastinate. But nothing (and I mean NOTHING) is a better motivator than the fear of failing to meet an objective. That fear doesn’t kick in until the deadline is creeping too close for comfort, resulting in an adrenal call to action. The hormonal response creates a super-human focus, giving us procrastinators the ability to turn in underachieved yet somehow satisfactory results.
If that fear response kicked in a bit earlier, could you just imagine how much more effective procrastinators could be?
Correction: Fear is an effective motivator.
Perhaps “better” was a poor choice of words, as there must be dozens of motivation techniques that promote productivity without the emotional harassment fear can inflict.
But as long as something isn’t late does it really matter if it is done at the last minute? When I stop being so busy I’ll get around to writing a followup post on the benefits to procrastination.
I put the “Pro” in procrastination. All kidding aside, like others, I feel it is a form of avoidance. Secondly, I thrive under pressure, so I have no fear about putting something off to the last minute. Of course, this may be a trait I picked up with in the Marine Corps. I know that when I get around to completing it at the 11th hour, I’m still going to look like a rock star.
The way to mitigate this is through good leadership, not management. A manager is going to nag you about the deadline, maybe even threaten. A good leader will motivate you, fire you up, and make you eager to complete even the most menial of tasks.
Thanks for the input. I like the manager/leader difference but I want to look in more detail at this last minute issue as I don’t see it as all bad. Sometime I’ll get to the next post in this series.
New recruitment slogan –
“The Marines: leaving it til the last minute.”
I enjoyed your post, David. Thank you.