Have you ever been told procrastination is a good thing? Likely not. The reasons you shouldn’t procrastinate are endless: it increases your anxiety and stress, the task could take longer than expected, you could run out of time, the result is sloppy work, something more important could come up, you won’t have time to make edits, working under pressure makes the job more tough, and so on.
So is procrastination ever a good thing? Yes! For many people in many circumstances, procrastination can be a very good thing. I have had countless occasions where I procrastinated and the results were amazing! Things turned out better than expected and definitely better than if I had spent months preparing. I’m guessing many of you have had similar experiences but all you ever hear from others is, “You shouldn’t leave important things to the last minute.”
Well, the advice I give my clients is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” If you routinely procrastinate on your important tasks and projects and consistently put out your best work by doing so, purposeful procrastination is one of your productivity superpowers. Embrace it. Not sure if procrastination is for you?
There Are Three P’s That Could Make Procrastination Okay…
IF Parkinson’s Law Rings True In Your Life
There’s something to be said about Parkinson’s Law which states that, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” That means if you start working on your presentation slides three weeks prior to the big day, you will likely spend all your extra time working on your slides, continuing to tweak them and tweak them until the day of the presentation. Alternatively, if you schedule a three-hour time block the night before the presentation in which to get the slides done, thus procrastinating, you will likely get the slides done sufficiently in the allotted three hours. Think about how much time you will have saved by working on the slides for only three hours rather than 30 minutes every day for three weeks!
Plus, mental construal theory may play a role. It basically dictates that far off goals such as a presentation in three weeks seems very abstract and it is difficult to execute on abstract goals. Therefore, you might find yourself going off on tangents or making missteps in relation to preparing for a presentation that takes place three weeks into the future. Goals that are close in time, as in creating slides for a presentation that takes place tomorrow, are easier to implement, take action on, and achieve.
IF You’re A Perfectionist
I made the mistake of giving myself far too much time to prepare for a big presentation once and worked myself into an absolute frenzy. I spent countless hours writing and editing, hired a speech coach, and rehearsed it maybe 40 times. Fast forward and I totally bombed the presentation. I received feedback that it was sad I was so ill-prepared because the content was good. Ill-prepared? Perhaps that would have fared better. The problem was I severely over-prepared. Because I was such a perfectionist and had memorized the speech word for word, I acted totally flustered when I screwed up even one word and kept backtracking to correct myself. I looked like an idiot up there because I tried to be perfect. I didn’t leave room to breathe and sounded like a malfunctioning robot. I had practiced myself right out of giving a good presentation. Lesson learned.
Are you a perfectionist? And I don't mean you think everything you put out there is perfect. I mean do you never feel done or that your work is never good enough? Do you feel the need to keep tweaking and tweaking to the point you're holding back from putting version 1.0 out there?
Consider this passage by James Nolan who considers himself to be a perfectionist, "I am a neurotic perfectionist. I am also a writer, and lately my has slowed to the point where I spend days rewriting the same sentence over and over. I believe the line will get better, and it does, but what is a reasonable amount of time to spend on a single sentence? Thirty seconds, two minutes, an hour? Certainly not a couple of days.."
Perfectionists don’t think their work is perfect but instead, keep striving for it and never feel done which can be a curse if left untamed. A phrase my friend and mentor Darren La Croix once told me helps me keep my perfectionism in check. He said, “Done is more profitable than perfect.” I swear he was put in my life for that quote because I surely would have perfection-ismed myself right out of business, out of money, out of everything a long while ago if I hadn’t embraced that quote and implemented it in my life. Now I, “Strive for excellence, not perfection,” as H. Jackson Brown Jr. advises and purposefully procrastinate on certain occasions which keeps my perfectionist tendencies in check.
IF You Work Well Under Pressure
There’s a dark side to procrastination which is why everyone tells you it’s so bad. A huge part of that is if you don’t work well under pressure and many people, if not most people, don’t. Maybe it causes you anxiety, increases your fear of failure, stresses you out, makes you miss other deadlines, or it affects time with your family. Maybe you’re simply not able to bring your A+ game when the heat is on and you must perform or hit a deadline. If that sounds like you, procrastination is definitely not for you and you should do everything within your power to refrain from procrastinating so you don’t suffer from its potential negative side effects.
If you do work exceptionally well just shy of a deadline, you might possess a personality that naturally works well under pressure. For many, pressure can cause adrenaline to release in the body resulting in hyperactivity and therefore the ability to work faster and more efficiently, not to mention you’re being forced to prioritize. Nothing can distract you if you’re right up against a deadline. I literally block out the night before a big deadline and rearrange my schedule and life if necessary to make sure the work gets done. That’s because if I don’t, I will let a project or presentation expand and take over my entire life, feeding it hours and hours of unnecessary valuable time just to produce subpar work. I know I perform well under pressure so I now embrace purposeful procrastination.
If you determine there are certain situations in which procrastinating would be okay, create a system that works for you. Construct boundaries and deadlines so you can complete your tasks and projects sufficiently in a manageable amount of time – in time. Even if you’re a perfectionist who works well under pressure and know full well that Parkinson’s Law rings true in your life, I am not encouraging you to leave vastly important things to the last minute. I am giving you permission to procrastinate if you consistently give yourself adequate time to complete a task, project, or prepare for a presentation, albeit close to your deadline, and still perform at your best. To be the most productive and show up at your best, you have to honor who you are and that may mean purposefully procrastinating at times.