People certainly beat themselves up for procrastinating. Well, when they get around to it, they beat themselves up.
But what if procrastinating wasn’t that bad? Just think: what if procrastination could actually be good for you?
Example One: You procrastinate about buying that house you toured with your spouse. And three months later, the price has dropped significantly so you buy it at a great savings.
Example Two: You procrastinate about writing that report the boss talked about. And the day before it’s due, information comes out that changes the entire strategy — making your report irrelevant.
Example Three: You procrastinate about having that difficult conversation with your co-worker, only to have her come in and apologize — and accept responsibility for her actions.
Sure, you could come up with plenty of examples where procrastination can hurt you, like ignoring those stabbing sharp pains on your lower right side (“It’s probably just gas, not appendicitis”) and ending up with emergency surgery. Granted.
But when you take a look at why you’re procrastinating, you can determine whether it’s the right thing to do or not.
When you evaluate The Why, you need to consider how you feel about the decision or task at hand. So, sit with it for a minute. How would it feel to own that house? Scary? Too expensive? Is that why you’re procrastinating? In this case, procrastination is sending you information — this house is overpriced. Yay, procrastination!
Sometimes procrastination is a sign that we really don’t want to do something. This happens when someone else forces their will on you — remember when your mother ordered you to clean your room, even though it looked fine to you? When you feel you have no control, you might procrastinate in a slightly passive-aggressive way (“I don’t wanna, and I’m not gonna”) until you provoke a fight that unleashes all your fury and anger. Cue the slamming door portion of the program.
But you might also procrastinate because you need time to collect your thoughts and make your plans. Planning People may appear to be “last-minute” when they’ve really been working out the problem in their head for some time. This is the way I write, as a matter of fact. I compose in my noggin all week, then sit down to write in one fell swoop.
Seems to work.
One other reason folks can procrastinate is possibly the most difficult to be aware of — they procrastinate so they can get out of their own way. These are our friends The Perfectionists.
Perfectionists can’t help themselves. They add, or take away, or refine, or fiddle, or tweak. The more time they have, the more they tinker. I once saw a time-elapse film of Picasso creating a painting. There was a point at which he could have stopped and had a masterpiece. But he kept on fiddling and adding. And ended up with a ruined canvas.
When perfectionists learn to get out of their own way by giving themselves less time, rather than more time, they can deliver a more perfect product. Then they have to deal with what might have been if they really had enough time to do it right.
But that’s a different column.
Procrastinating might be central to the way you function in the world, and, if that’s so, then embrace it. Use it for good. If procrastinating hurts you, or keeps you from fully enjoying your life, then you might spend more time examining exactly why you keep putting things off. Because once you understand that, you understand yourself. Which is central to living a happy life.