Procrastination has a bad press and has been described as “the thief of time” (Edward Young), “the most common and deadliest of diseases” (Wayne Gretzky) and “opportunity’s assassin” (Victor Kiam).
Most people appreciate that procrastinating, that is, “carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones,” or “doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones,” isn’t a good strategy most of the time.
We procrastinate for many reasons, including:
- Not knowing where or how to start
- Feeling overwhelmed
- The task is boring
- Rebellion – because someone else wants us to do it
- Fear of failure
There are some excellent pieces on procrastination and how to beat it. These include Brian Tracey’s book, “Eat that Frog,” which advocates tackling the most challenging task of the day first (‘eating the frog’) and James Caan’s article about curing procrastination.
Right then. You’d better get on with the important tasks that you are meant to be doing and stop reading this!
Wait a few seconds though.
There is another side to procrastination. It may not always be the enemy. Sometimes, it could even be useful.
I can recall several times when I have put off a task, only to find that when I finally did it, the timing was now perfect. I had been delaying an important call to a potential partner, and when I finally spoke to them, there was an opportunity that wouldn’t have been there when I was ‘meant’ to call them. Michael Neill refers to this as “perfectly timing the universe.” Perhaps, occasionally we procrastinate because somehow we intuitively know that the timing isn’t right.
On other occasions, I have procrastinated about tasks, but found myself doing another dull (although essential) task instead, such compiling my expenses. Despite procrastinating, I felt good once my expenses were with my accountant, and it could have taken me a long time to get round to the task otherwise.
What about when a task that I’ve been procrastinating becomes so urgent that it can no longer be avoided? Think proposal or tax deadlines and exams. As the deadlines have loomed larger, procrastination ceased to be an option and I found that I moved into a hyper-focused mode and became far more efficient. It also made these things seem easier, because I suddenly ‘had’ to do them.
So what am I getting at?
Do I think we should procrastinate all of the time? Of course not. Generally, procrastination isn’t effective and when I catch myself procrastinating, I try to eat the frog or JFDI. If this doesn’t work though, I could be just timing the universe or waiting for a hyper-focused mode, so I try not to give myself too much of a hard a time.
I’d love to hear your thoughts – please feel free to comment.
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