How Procrastination Can Make You Work Better
“A stitch in time saves nine,” your mother, grandmother, and first grade teacher preached in your impressionable years. How many times have you heard procrastination is an awful habit? We have research-backed facts that indicate procrastination can in fact boost creativity, productivity, and help make better decisions.
So the next time you get a bad rap for procrastinating, you’ll have your arguments ready.
1. Eureka moments come in idle time
Leonardo da Vinci was a famous procrastinator. He started the Mona Lisa in 1503 but completed it only in 1517. Archimedes conceived the solution for a complex physics problem while wallowing in his bath tub. Jennifer Lopez confesses she gets her best lyrical inspirations when she’s relaxing.
What we mean to say is that taking time off from a pressing task can actually get your creative juices flowing and you can stumble upon the perfect solution making up for an “A-ha” moment. When you are not actively thinking about a problem at hand, it lingers in your subconscious and keeps you mulling over it. Research proves that we have a longer memory for unfinished tasks than finished ones. Stress of meeting expectations can really kill creativity. So, when you have a deadline looming for a brainstorming session or for a creative solution, take some down time and indulge in activities that relax you. Chances are you’ll be more productive later.
2. Active procrastination builds momentum
There is a difference between active and passive procrastination. Let’s consider a situation. You have a long to-do list for the day, tasks prioritized by importance. You jump right onto it and tick off the most important tasks first. As soon as you’re through with these, you lose momentum for the remaining tasks. By comparison, if you do the unimportant chores first, you’ll have built an urgency by the time you reach the important tasks. This is called active procrastination, it means the procrastinator has total control over his time and tasks and actually puts off tasks not to shirk responsibility but to build momentum. Active procrastinators work better in pressure situations. They are not so good in managing deadlines but they always deliver a better product that someone who is always on the clock.
Passive procrastination is worrisome. If you choose to watch Netflix or color coordinate your wardrobe while urgent tasks await your attention, you are in for trouble. Passive procrastinators have no control over their urges, get distracted easily, and worry inordinately about putting off tasks instead of tending to them.
That being said, some situations should not be procrastinated at all. When you have to perform a high-priority task or produce high-quality work, precluding things till the last minute can take its toll on quality. Compiling an important report, delivering a big presentation, planning for a project are some tasks that require careful deliberation that can best be done at an unhurried pace.
3. Delays can lead to better decisions
Typically, we postpone tasks that we don’t feel comfortable or confident about. If we utilize the time gap in gathering more information about the work, weighing our options, rethinking impulsive initial reactions, we can come up with better decisions and strategies.
Greek and Roman cultures considered idle thinkers the wisest. Aaron Sorkic, the creative director of The West Wing when quizzed by Katie Couric on why he loves procrastinating, says, “You call it procrastination; I call it thinking.” If you have a natural tendency to jump onto a task as soon as it’s assigned, you might be doing more harm than good. Take some time to reconsider your strategy and come up with better solutions.
Frank Portnoy, the author of Wait, researched famous politicians, athletes and entrepreneurs for their decision making habits. Surprisingly, he found that those who postponed taking decisions till the last minute took more balanced decisions than those who made instinctive, first-minute choices. “Delay the response or the decision until the very last possible moment,” Portnoy advises. “If it’s a year, wait 364 days. If it’s an hour, wait 59 minutes.” Procrastination here, is all about making more informed choices rather than avoiding a task.
4. Crunch situations force you to be efficient
When you have little time to indulge in details, you have to drill down on the essentials and trim down the fat. This forces you to take a bird’s eye view of all requirements before you identify the ones that’ll have maximum impact on the final product. You’ll find yourself racing against time and also striving for quality at the same time. You’ll be compelled to look for smarter ways of working and managing your time. The flip side of procrastinating will be a more resourceful YOU!
It all boils down to control. How much control do you have over your thinking? Can you manage anxiety well? Or, do you end up with feelings of guilt and shame about procrastinating and these lead you to lose focus? It also depends on your temperament. Are you the sort of person who thrives under stress (yes, those types do exist!)? How well do you know yourself? Even if you pride on your last minute coping strategies, you must know where to draw the line.