While I painfully preach advance planning and preparation to my sons, I was actually the kid in school who waited until the last minute to cram for tests and was up until 5 a.m. banging out term papers due later that morning. Even right now, I’ve waited until the last possible minute to finish this blog—the RISMedia holiday party kicks off in 45 minutes and trust me, you don’t want to miss a minute of that. You think I would’ve learned by now…
Luckily for me—and my kids…and millions of others—turns out procrastination isn’t necessarily all bad. According to Psychology Today, highly productive people tend to procrastinate in ways that actually increase their productivity. This makes a lot of sense to me. Despite my last minute-ness, I was actually a very good student and excelled at those term papers. My professional life revolves around deadlines, which are never missed—the magazine comes out on the first of every month and the Daily e-News goes out each morning, in addition to countless other time-sensitive projects. In other words, my tendency to procrastinate doesn’t derail me.
As Psychology Today explains, effective procrastinators often take care of small tasks while they’re avoiding the larger task at hand. While this may seem counterproductive on the surface, you’re actually getting things done and thereby clearing the mental space needed to tackle your big job. I do this a lot—I’ll respond to emails, return calls, update spreadsheets—all things that need to get done, which thereby relieves my guilt about delaying something more important and clears my plate of nagging yet important to-dos.
Another classic procrastination tactic is diverting your attention by chatting with a friend or colleague, or surfing the net. But this may be exactly the type of activity your brain needs to get jump-started or inspired to move on to your project. A good laugh, an interesting blog or video, or a few words of inspiration will help you relax and potentially spark a creative idea that sets you in motion.
What’s more, some say that procrastination might actually be the smartest choice when we’re confronted with making a big decision. According to “Wait: The Art and Science of Delay,” author Frank Partnoy advocates that we wait as long as possible when faced with making a decision—up until the last possible minute, in fact. In an article in Smithsonian Magazine, Partnoy says, “People are more successful and happier when they manage delay. We will always have more things to do than we can possibly do, so we will always be imposing some sort of unwarranted delay on some tasks. The question is not whether we are procrastinating, it is whether we are procrastinating well.”
How does one “procrastinate well?” Here are some tips for effectively pushing things off:
Get outside. Take a quick walk, have lunch at the beach or read a magazine in the park. Fresh air will reset and relax the mind.
Phone a friend. You probably owe your best friend or your mother a call. Take a few minutes to invest in a relationship.
Get inspired. Scroll through some favorite quotes or watch a YouTube video of someone you admire.
Keep busy. A body in motion stays in motion, so do small tasks while you’re procrastinating. Vegging out on the sofa can be a dead-end street.
Take a nap. Sometimes, however, we’re just plain tired. So take a 20-minute power nap and wake up with a fresh set of eyes.
Honestly, for me, I do my best work when I’m under the gun. I wish that weren’t the case sometimes, but I’ve learned that when my back’s against the wall, my mind gets laser-focused and I become super productive. So let go of the guilt, learn some tricks of the trade, and accept your procrastination—it can serve you well when done right.