Do you find yourself putting off tasks you’d rather not do?
If so, you’re not alone. In fact, one in five American adults considers
themselves a chronic procrastinator — which is rough, since procrastinators get
a lot flack about being “lazy,” “undisciplined” or “unreliable,” three traits
you don’t want to be known for in business.
So, why do so many people continue to procrastinate? There’s
been a lot of research done, and it seems to come down to the trade-off between
instant vs. delayed gratification while maintaining your comfort zone.
Basically, humans seem to be wired to enjoy the here and now. It requires some
real work to endure discomfort today for your future reward, and a lot of us
find that difficult to do.
Now, there is no shortage of advice on how to stop
procrastinating — “Make a list of daily tasks … break big projects down into
smaller ones ... stop worrying about failing ... don’t be such a perfectionist”
are just some of the advice that lifehack.org gives. But what exactly is
procrastinating and does it have to be a bad thing?
John Perry, a professor at Stanford University, says
procrastination is simply “not doing what you’re suppose to be doing,” but that
doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not being productive. He suggests that
procrastination is an artform and even dawdling folks can have the reputations
of being go-getters and reliable individuals.
In his book The Art of
Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging, and Postponing,
Perry shares his insight on how to procrastinate productively. He suggests that
when you’re putting off a task — for example, mowing the lawn before it rains —
you should fill that time with another productive task, such as doing the
laundry. You’ll probably end up mowing the lawn at the last minute, but you
also got another household chore done.
(As an added bonus, waiting until the last minute puts a
hard-and-fast time limit on a task. Parkinson's law — the idea that work expands to fill the
time available for its completion — could also argue that waiting till the
last minute is a good way to not waste time on tasks that don’t require it.)
Perry says task triage is an important part of productive
procrastination. Many people are perfectionists and want to do the best on
every job they are given. But, in all honesty, most of your daily tasks may not
require “your best” and your time is limited. So, next time you’re given a
task, take some time to decide how important it is and how much attention and
time it requires. This will help you prioritize and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Perry also suggests hacking your to-do list by adding a few
easy tasks to your day so you can cross them off early. Perhaps turning off the
alarm, getting dressed and making coffee are the first three things you put on
your list of things to do. No one has to see it, and you might get an extra
kick of productivity by crossing off things so early. He also suggests putting
a big but not important task at the top of your list — that way, you’ll put it
off and get other things done instead.
Do you have any tips on ways to use procrastination to your
advantage? Leave a comment and share them with us!