Some people don’t procrastinate. It’s shocking, but true. These calm, level-headed folks function on a rotating pattern of accomplishment and relaxation. A balance is achieved, stress is kept at bay, and stuff gets done. However, everyone is different. Not everyone can achieve, function, and thrive, when things flow in such an orderly and relaxed way. Some of us need chaos to do our best work. So, we procrastinate.
(Photo Credit: Denise P.S./Flickr)
The trouble seems to come with the word itself and the connotations it carries along with it. Procrastination sounds really negative – but is it? Perhaps through understanding and defining it differently we can learn to accept the way we work best a little more and apply the energy we generate through procrastinating more positively, and without beating ourselves up. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Student Syndrome looks different for high-achieving grown-ups.
Anything called a syndrome can’t be good … but this term was coined for a reason, and there is something to be learned from it by grown-up procrastinators. Student syndrome is the tendency for young people to put off what they have to do until the last possible minute so that they can harness and channel that panicky energy into accomplishing a given task.
The problem with doing this when you’re young, (and you can probably recall this), is that you don’t really know how long tasks actually take. You figure half a day is plenty of time to write that paper, because you’ve already done the research – then, suddenly, time is up and your paper isn’t ready. However, as adults, we are more familiar with how long it takes to accomplish tasks we’ve done many times before. If there is a certain kind of project that you don’t love, but have to do often, you know how long it takes. As long as you set aside the requisite amount of time (maybe a little more is best you can use that awesome last-minute energy to motivate you to accomplish the task at hand.
2. Don’t forget Hofstader’s Law.
Hofstader’s Law states that tasks take longer to accomplish than you think. But, the law actually goes a step further, restating that things take more time than you think, even when you know about Hofstader’s law. In other words, you’re underestimating how long tasks take to accomplish. Really, you are. In order to ensure that you do thorough work, be sure to start things sooner than you think is necessary. Even if you think it took you six hours to write up a project summary in the past, assume it was actually 10 – our minds tend to protect us from memories of toil.
3. A lot of highly accomplished, professionals are procrastinators, especially creative ones.
In a recent Fast Company piece, Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, reflected on his creative and professional process. He talks about the virtues of rejection and the internal motivation it can generate, reflects on the drive and persistence required to achieve, and discusses procrastination. He ends the piece with this:
I spent so much time trying to write, but was paralyzed by how behind I felt. Many years later, I realized that if I had written only a couple of pages a day, I would’ve written 500 pages at the end of a year (and that’s not even working weekends). Any contribution you make on a daily basis is fantastic. I still happen to write almost everything at once, but I now cut myself slack on all of the thinking and procrastination time I use. I know that it’s all part of my creative process.
Bill Gates is reported to have said that he preferred hiring lazy people to do difficult jobs because “a lazy person will always find an easy way to do it.” Not that procrastinators are lazy. It’s just that the energy generated from letting things go a little works for a lot of people. People tend to find different, perhaps better, solutions to problems when the pressure is on.
Also, efficient people are smart. Why spend 10 hours to complete something that you could do just as well in five? That only leaves more hours in the workday to accomplish other things.
Tell Us What You Think
How does procrastination work for you? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.