You’ve probably heard the expression “there are two ways to skin a cat”. I’m not actually aware of what those two ways are, nor do I need to know…but what I do know is that when it comes to getting something done the well-worn standard is that you can do it only one of two ways: do it fast or do it right.
At first glance, putting off important tasks until later may seem like a career-ending risk that only leads to increased stress, anxiety, and poor outcomes. However, it turns out that if you procrastinate conscientiously (yes, I’ll prove that’s a thing) you may be able to get your job done both fast and right.
We tend to think of procrastinators as lazy, undisciplined, and lacking in work ethic when in reality procrastination can increase creativity and energy, as well as help reduce those pesky perfectionist tendencies that stifle creative thought. As for the cons, procrastinating often leads to an increase in stress and anxiety, as well as the likelihood of making errors when rushing toward completion of a project. In worst-case scenarios, putting things off until the last minute can cause you to miss an important deadline.
Some of us may already feel as if we are cutting corners on our 2019 resolutions to be more focused and efficient on the job. Don’t fret just yet. If you can manage the balancing act between sparking creativity and minimizing stress, you too can access the tangible benefits of thoughtful and intentional procrastination.
Three Pros of Procrastinating
The Thrill of the Ride
According to Tim Urban, a self-prescribed “Master Procrastinator”, there are two creatures residing inside of our procrastinating brain that push and pull against our most rational sensibilities:
An Instant Gratification Monkey
and a Panic Monster.
The fun and frivolous Instant Gratification Monkey lives in the present and convinces us that the most important task at hand should be whatever is most pleasurable and easy at the moment. Who doesn’t like this guy?
Unfortunately, it’s only fun and games until his arch-enemy the Panic Monster arrives and showers our procrastinator brain with the dreaded Consequences. It’s this fear-based adrenaline spike that comes with the realization that a major work project is due in a couple of days or even hours that gives us that much-needed burst of creative energy while racing to the finish line. This rush and subsequent boost in brain activity have been proven to lead to an increase in new and engaging ideas.
Using Your Downtime Wisely
If you have ever stared at a blank computer screen trying desperately to come up with something — anything, to write only to do the typing/deleting/retyping dance over and over again, you know what true mental frustration is. Yet how many times, after giving yourself a break or calling it quits for the night have you had that brilliant eureka idea in the shower or woken up in the middle of the night with a genius AHA realization? “Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps,” says Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant. So, next time you feel pressure to get the job done, give your brain a break and recharge.
No One’s Perfect
Procrastination can stifle the urge for perfection. No good manager or supervisor asks for or expects flawlessness. Only your mom thinks you are a diamond. So, cut yourself some slack and believe in your ability to produce a very good product. Give yourself just enough time to complete the job, but not so much leeway that you rewrite paragraphs multiple times or assess your content through a Thesaurus-lens and lose sight of your goal. But, be careful, with too much procrastination, perfection flies out the figurative window, and you will be forced to only focus on the more important goal of merely getting the job done.
Three Cons of Procrastinating
Calgon Take Me Away
When you put off until tomorrow what should have been accomplished today, you will undoubtedly feel a great deal of stress and worry. Sleepless nights and anxiety leading up to a looming deadline impact your ability to concentrate both at work and at home. It’s best to get those recommended seven hours of shut-eye, lest your workplace performance suffer. Watch what happens when you don’t sleep on the regs.
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
While you may be able to complete a task that you are familiar with in a short amount of time, many projects require a lengthier upfront period for research and organization. If you procrastinate doing a task you’ve never done before, it may come back to bite you in the butt you’ve been sitting on for too many days. Don’t assume that you can scramble to deliver your usual amazing work, only to discover that you will not have time to complete interviews, do research, make phone calls, rehearse and learn all that you need to know for the project.
Oops, I Did it Again
Even if you have successfully managed to make many of your project deadlines by burning the midnight oil, procrastinating is a risky endeavor. Submitting a project late is never acceptable. Even if your boss seems relaxed about it, don’t be tempted to make this a habit. Mistakes may be forgiven, but are rarely forgotten. If you are going to procrastinate, strive to leave yourself enough time and wiggle room to complete the project correctly, expertly, and on time.
How to Be a Good Procrastinator
Now that you know the pros and cons of putting things off until the last minute, it is time to learn how to be that conscientious procrastinator you’ve always wanted to be.
- Leave yourself enough time to work on a project, while waiting just long enough to spark energy and creativity from the panic monster.
- Strive to finish the behind the scenes work well ahead of time — at least this way, you’ll have all of your foundational work completed when you sit down to write, design or create the night before your deadline.
- Try to be vigilant with projects that don’t have a set deadline. This can include starting a new project on your own at work, launching your own business, or enrolling in a workshop that may increase your chances of getting a promotion. If you have to, create false-but-meaningful deadlines that induce the urgency associated with a hard stop. Tell a friend about your plans to open a new business or complete a project before the end of 2019 and encourage them to frequently inquire about your progress and accomplishments. Add self-imposed interim deadlines that break your goal up into manageable bites. Download a calendar integration so you can set up online meetings in advance and work toward them.
- Finally, learn to enjoy the good feelings that come when you complete a project before the 11th hour. Recognize the calming sense that accompanies wrapping a project a day or two ahead of schedule. Bathe in this warmth, calm, and low blood pressure. Feel free to reward yourself for procrastinating successfully. While you might enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with finishing a project just under the wire, you can also learn to like a more “slow and steady wins the race” approach some of the time as well.
When it Comes to Procrastination, Balance is Best
Like many things in life, procrastination isn’t black and white. Adam Grant’s popular Ted Talk “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers” reminds us that “procrastinating is a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue for creativity.”
Try using procrastination to your advantage at work. But remember, it’s important to understand when and how procrastination should be used to help, and when it will ultimately hurt your career. By understanding the specific instances when procrastination can be positive and learning how to avoid the ways that it isn’t can turn the oft-maligned procrastination into a tool for success.