Are you a procrastinator? Since you are reading this you probably are, or someone you know is–and it bothers you! Procrastination is perceived by most of us today to be a character flaw. That wasn’t always the case, though. The leaders and affluent class of Ancient Greece and Rome spent much of their time thinking and pondering over all sorts of subjects and only actually made a decision or took action after fully assessing all of the possibilities.
Compare that to the early colonists of the United States: they brought with them to the New World the Protestant work ethic and phrases like “a stitch in time saves nine” and “the early bird gets the worm.” Many of us have had those phrases drilled into our heads, so it’s no wonder that we have a disdain for procrastinators–even if we are one.
In my family I am considered the ultimate procrastinator–followed closely by my youngest daughter. I have always somewhat jokingly rationalized my behavior as prioritizing rather than procrastinating. If I am asked to do something (fill out forms for school, complete the annual enrollment for health insurance, or provide treats for an event) my first question is always “When is the deadline?” And more often than not I complete the task right before the deadline. I was also the student who wrote all papers and completed all projects the night before they were due, so it really is a part of who I am.
But is procrastination always a bad thing? It turns out that it depends on why you are procrastinating and whether it is intentional. If you are sitting around watching television or scrolling through your Facebook feed for long periods of time (passive procrastination), then you may need to reevaluate how you are spending your time. Purposely putting off the completion of a task (active procrastination), on the other hand, can actually work in your favor.
If the task requires creativity or a thoughtful analysis, such as a logo design or a business proposal then the best course of action is sometimes to review the requirements, make a few notes, estimate how long it will take you to complete the task, and then put it away until you are at the deadline minus the time you projected for completion. Procrastinating in this way can actually have positive effects.
If you are confident in your ability to complete the task at a later date in the amount of time you projected, then you can go about your days working on other tasks and activities without worrying about the looming project. Your stress levels will likely go down as you knock out a lot of smaller tasks in the days leading up to when you need to get back to the larger project you have put aside.
Boost in Creativity
Just because you have put the project aside for a few days doesn’t mean that you won’t think about it several times a day. As long as you spent a few minutes looking over the requirements and making a few preliminary notes, you will find yourself thinking about the details of the project at unexpected times throughout the days (or nights) leading up to the deadline. For this reason it might be a good idea to keep a notebook or smartphone nearby to jot down ideas as they come to you. This semi-conscious percolation of thoughts and ideas can often lead to more creative solutions or designs.
Reduction of Wasted Effort
As with just about everything in life, things change. If you are one to complete a project ahead of schedule, you might find yourself revising your work if the requirements are modified before the deadline. Even though you would probably be able to successfully revise your work before the actual deadline, you may feel a sense of resentment for having wasted even a little bit of time on working toward the original requirements.
Increased Focus and Productivity
Once the time comes to actually complete your project, report, or design, you will likely experience an adrenaline rush because of the impending deadline. As long as you have reasonably estimated the time it will take you to finish, this rush of adrenaline will often increase your focus on the assignment and in turn boost your productivity. More often than not you will find that the task at hand will end up taking you less time to finish than what you had predicted.
Hopefully, recognizing the benefits that often result from strategically delaying a complicated decision, project, or design will help to lessen the stigma that has been attached to procrastination. And when your procrastination (like mine at times) is really strategic prioritization (or putting off mundane, time-consuming tasks until the last possible minute) then make sure you mark your calendar, set alerts, and make use of a good filing/organization system. That way, you can find all of the forms and documents that you need when completing your tax return on April 15th each year–and not a day before!