Who says procrastination is necessarily a bad thing? If you think about it for a moment, you’ll realise it’s a great way of dealing with tasks you simply don’t want to do now.
If you procrastinate, what do you get in return?
For a start, you get to avoid discomfort in the here and now. That task that is so unappealing is magically sent into tomorrow (or even next week!) for future you to deal with. Thanks, future you! So you can breathe easy for now and do something more pleasant or interesting.
Fundamentally, procrastinating about important tasks gives us a sense of control in an otherwise uncontrollable world. And that always feels nice. If we’re honest with ourselves, it can be a nice (minor) act of rebellion to delay these important tasks – showing “the man” who’s boss after all.
You know when you leave an important task to the last minute, the end up working really hard over long hours to meet the deadline? Be honest: it makes you feel like a hero, doesn’t it? And how great it is to be able to show the naysayers that you managed to get it all done in the end. Even if you did miss out on a lot of sleep to get there!
If you look at it that way, procrastination isn’t such a bad thing at all!
On the other hand…there are are a few obvious downsides. So no, I’m not advocating procrastination.
Sorry about that.
1. For a start, it’s not a sustainable working style – when you look at wellbeing (think of the pressure you put yourself under to reach those last minute deadlines!) or our relationships at work.
Why? Well, the vast majority of us work interdependently with others. We need them and they need us. And when we procrastinate, we impact others. It might not be obvious at first, but the people waiting on your work feel it when you wait until the last minute.
2. Reputation-wise, we don’t look our best running around like a headless chicken due to last-minute panic. Are you really at your best – professionally or personally – when you’ve procrastinated and now regret that wasted time?
3. Additionally, we set a poor example for those that work for us, as procrastination demonstrates poor planning and a lack of self-discipline. Is that the lesson we want to leave with others? Are we being the best role model?
4. Procrastination “works” when we survive the fact we’ve wasted time and pushed tasks into our future. But it won’t work every time and we can’t anticipate and plan for every eventuality. That Friday afternoon we’ve set aside to (eventually) start writing the report could easily be derailed by our boss who has something else for us to do.
Procrastination is fundamentally self-defeating, even if it can feel good in the moment. But listen to the story you’re telling yourself about why it’s a good idea…would you agree if it was coming from a colleague?
If we’re being honest, we’ll admit that we procrastinate when we’re bored, when we dislike the task to be done, when we don’t feel it’s our job or when we’re not entirely sure what needs to be done. None of these is a logical reason to push the task into the future, especially when it’s important.
You have alternatives
Consider how you can handle it differently by:
- Imagining how good it will feel to have completed the task
- Making a very small start and identifying the next action you need to do
- Breaking the task into smaller parts and spreading it over a longer time
- Commit to spending just the next 15 minutes on the task and see how you get on
- Make a commitment to a colleague that you’ll meet the deadline
Procrastination is simply a habit – it can be broken and when you do, you’ll notice the difference it makes to your happiness and productivity immediately.
Want to learn more about how to beat your procrastination? Have a listen to episode 7 of ‘My Pocket Psych’, where we discuss the options.
Future you will thank you.