The Sooner You Start... Why Procrastination Isn't Always Bad

"I think of myself as something of a connoisseur of procrastination, creative and dogged in my approach to not getting things done."

Susan Orlean, journalist, author and staff writer for The New Yorker

We all do it. Industry leaders down to undergraduate students; creatives, executives, technicians and salespeople. You may even be doing it right now.

When faced with a big project, a lengthy report to read, a complex client conversation… we put it off. No matter how many helpful screening systems we employ (the Freedom app, for example, can disable all of your social media tools for a specified time), it’s human nature to find distractions amidst the call of focused work.

image credit:  Quinn Dombrowski

image credit: Quinn Dombrowski

So is procrastination always the thief of time? When the working world first embraced the internet, its perceived impact on employee productivity was overwhelmingly negative. Facebook and other social networking sites were blocked as matter of course, and using your computer for personal chores within working hours was a covert practice at best, and potentially a sackable offence. 

As the Internet Century has moved on, so too has our understanding of what worker efficiency looks like, at least in the world of the smart creative. Flexible hours and and the ‘always-on’ reality of working life has changed how we see the division of work and home, now far more integrated than before.

But time-wasting is still time-wasting, right? Not necessarily. Daniel Levitin writes in The Organized Mind about the switch our brains make between the ‘central executive’ — the fully focused prefrontal cortex which is actively engaged in a task — and the daydreaming state when our attention wanders. 

Our desire for productivity isn’t always best served by plunging into work. If we confront that complex task head on — what Adam Grant refers to in his recent TED talk as pre-crastination — we miss the opportunities that arise when our brains wander in a contemplative state.

"procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps."

Allowing yourself time to switch between focused attention and day dreaming (and yes, that includes going completely off topic: YouTube surfing, inbox clearing, Words With Friends, a run or walk…*), you can make the difference between pinging an instant comeback to a problematic email, or designing a thoughtful and constructive response; getting your report in on time, or creating something really worthwhile.

Of course if you’ve allowed time to watched the entire season five of Game Of Thrones, eaten your own body weight in pretzels, and run out of tweets — and you’re still struggling to get the words on a page — it may be time to call in some professional help.

* For some truly inspirational work-deferment, watch another procrastination connoisseur… Tim Urban's funny and enlightening TED talk, taking you Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator

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