When ​Procrastination is Good: Putting Things Off Can Pay Off

When ​Procrastination is Good: Putting Things Off Can Pay Off

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Shifrah Combiths
May 23, 2017

Whether you're putting off a report you have to write, stalling on a phone call you dread, or you just can't bring yourself to tackle that cleaning task you hate, procrastination plagues us all. Being in the clutches of procrastination often causes us to moan and groan and sheepishly admit it when we're caught. But procrastination does in fact have a bright side.

How Procrastinating Helps (For Real)

Since most of us can't help succumbing to the occasional bout of procrastination, comfort can be found in knowing how it can be a good thing.

Procrastination can keep perfectionism in check. If you start making your kid's homemade, meticulously decorated birthday cake two days in advance, you have that much more time to obsess about the details. But if you wait to do it until much closer to the event, your decorations will be swift and good enough — and they will be because they're made with love.

Procrastination gives us more time to think. It happens so often in that last shower you take on the day in which you just cannot avoid writing that article any longer — that brilliant idea, that scything turn of phrase. Doing other, mundane things while we keep something in mind allows us the room for the pressure-less background thinking and processing that doesn't necessarily happen when we're in get-'er-done mode.

Procrastination gives us to have razor-sharp focus when we need it. Once all those ideas have marinated and the task at hand cannot be pushed aside any longer, having procrastinated gives us a time crunch that forces us into a state of laser-like focus (like mine right now). It's a great way to work, even if it's at the eleventh hour.

Procrastination makes us work faster. Since you've waited so long to do something you don't want to do, you have less time in which to do it. As your deadline looms, you're forced to complete what you need to and quickly. While I don't know that I'd trade the feeling of freedom from a task already accomplished for this perk, it's nice to know that in the end we spent less total time on a task we didn't want to do.

Procrastination makes your house clean. It started in the college days. I'd have a paper due and so I'd mop the floors. Well, some things never change. I had several things due last Friday and guess what I did? I cleaned my grout! What's at work here is that when a big task is looming, other tasks (even usually onerous ones) seem smaller. So you suddenly want to do those instead.

(Image credit: Sandra Rojo)

How to Keep Procrastination from Getting the Best of You

While we just touted the benefits procrastination can and does bestow, no one wants to live life with a constant knot in their stomach from perpetual deadlines that are about to be missed.

Make mini-deadlines. To avoid diminished quality in your end product, make mini-deadlines for yourself. This way, you won't have to scramble at the end to stuff a large amount of work into an actually too-small amount of time. For instance, if you're working on a presentation for work, break it down into smaller chunks and give yourself deadlines for them. You can procrastinate to your heart's content on these, but treat these self-inflicted deadlines strictly.

Move your whole deadline closer. If you're good at psyching yourself out, move your personal deadline closer than the actual external deadline. Give yourself a buffer for those inevitable Murphy's Law cogs in the wheel, like the printer not working or being blocked in your parking spot by the armored truck (true story). This way, even if you wait until the last minute to get cracking, you won't sabotage yourself.

Don't let yourself start working until you're actually time crunched. This may or may not be good advice, but here's what I mean: Nothing drains me more than a day I spent doing something half-way and allowing myself to get distracted. Something that could have taken an hour instead taking three hours—it kills me and really makes me grumpy. It's better to do something else with intention and actually put off your task wholesale until you have to focus. Maybe the lesson here is to procrastinate harder.

Dangle a carrot. Set up a reward, something you'll only allow yourself once the checkbox is marked. Maybe it's a Netflix episode or a piece of chocolate. Get everything ready so that once you're done, you can enjoy your treat right away. For instance, if you will treat yourself to a baking session, make sure the kitchen is already clean (hey! more procrastination fodder).

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