“I’LL START READING for my exams after I finish watching this YouTube video of a baby chopping off his brother’s finger…or maybe after I read this bit of juicy celebrity gossip…”
Sound familiar? That’s right; it’s the comforting voice of procrastination!
Procrastination means “To put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness”, “To postpone or delay needlessly.” Going by that definition, almost everyone of us is guilty of procrastination. Perhaps the only difference is the degree to which we do it.
You drink a cup of coffee, check your mail, gaze outside for minutes on end, doing what you call “brainstorming,” check your mail once more and before you know it, two hours have passed and you haven’t even put one word down on the page.
Leah, a freelance photographer says procrastination is no good at all. “As a designer who does freelance gigs, I usually work straight hours so if I missed a single task it’s like I’m losing half of my salary.”
Procrastination isn’t usually seen as a good thing, and mere mention of the word will provoke responses geared at arming you with tips to beat the habit and, hopefully, get on with more important business.
But there is a positive side to procrastination that is less often discussed. What is otherwise termed “creative procrastination.” By this mode of procrastination, you can now write off all that time you spent playing video games or tweeting as “creativity”.
According to Frank Partnoy, author of the book Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, putting things off can help us make better decisions and even improve the quality of our lives. He shares with readers how procrastinating helped him make his way through college, law school and even succeed at his academic career.
Apparently, most creative professionals tend to play around with a difficult problem before they try to resolve it. Ultimately, this makes their solution more creative than most, because they’ve had that much more time to think it over and over again.
At some point, like it or not, you are going to have to face things and read for your exam, write that report or call up a relative. But sometimes your mind might just need a break to eventually be productive again. You are only human.
Good VS bad procrastination
So where does one draw the line between creative procrastination and negative procrastination?
According to the book, procrastination falls under two broad categories: passive procrastination and active procrastination.
Passive procrastination is when you put something off but don’t replace it with a useful task. During active procrastinating, however, you’re fully aware that there’s something you should be doing, but you’ve decided that what you’re doing instead is more important and will pay off in the long run.
The book further notes that active procrastinators tend to delay things because they work well under pressure and are motivated by the fact that a deadline is coming up.
The main difference between the two groups of procrastinators is that one eventually gets the task done (and possibly even a few other tasks along the way), while the other puts it off, worries about it and often ends up not finishing at all.
There is one more benefit of procrastination: it might give you insight into why you’re avoiding what you’re avoiding.
Take a minute to think about why you are putting something off. Perhaps the reason you can’t seem to focus on your textbook is because it’s just not the right subject for you, even if you initially thought it was. Or, if you aren’t replying to that client’s email, there’s a good chance that subconsciously you don’t want their business.
Sometimes your procrastination is telling you something important, and you might benefit from taking the opportunity to think it over.