Procrastination is not altogether bad. Sometimes it does some good too.
Strategic Procrastination or “procrastination on purpose” is where procrastination is the actual plan of strategy. Not doing it out of laziness — but actively harnessing the benefit of it.
Caveat. Strategic procrastination as an entire strategy isn’t going to work. And I am not encouraging it. I am just arguing it is not altogether a bad thing.
What is Strategic Procrastination?
We put things off on our to-do list for later, believing that they will be done in a better way than now.
We tend to do more silly, unimportant things — while putting our tasks that can contribute to the significant outcome on pause.
Have you ever organized your folders on your computer while you had to work on an important presentation? Have you ever spent more time searching for a suitable app for a particular task when greater tasks are in due?
Spending more time on insignificant things (tell yourself that is nice to be done now) and not on the actual stuff that can move the needle.
You get the fake feeling of working, the fake feeling of accomplishment while you actually procrastinated on the actual work.
I’m not advocating the following reasons good, — or bad. These are just reasons why we procrastinate and think of it as a strategic plan.
Due to emotion: We put off things because we feel we’re not in the right mood to carry out the work now. Also, we believe the mood will change later. We wait until the right mood hits in.
Rewards: There’s no reward for completing things earlier. We are either motivated by fear (of punishment or losing) or reward. So why not procrastinate?
Self-esteem: We would rather be seen as lazy rather than incompetent. So we put tasks off until the last minute.
Research & Preparation: We want everything, every data to be in place to start. We don’t know where to stop researching and where to start the actual work. We don’t want to be wrong with our plan. We want things to be perfect in the end. So we put more time into preparation rather than doing.
Looking like an idiot: We don’t want to look like an idiot by putting your product out in the world before anyone. Wanting to be relative to your peers is a pressing concern for everyone. We all want to be seen as unique, yet we are afraid of being odd in the group. So we wait for others to proceed before us.
No idea: When you don’t know what you exactly want (as an outcome), you need time to figure it out.
When you know what outcome you needed, but you don’t the how to achieve it, then you need time to figure it out.
When you have multiple ways to do one thing, you need to weigh their options and benefits. You need time for figuring it out.
You can’t waste your time figuring it out when other tasks on your list are waiting. So you work on those tiny less important tasks while the thoughts about the big task in simmering back in your mind.
Getting the most — out of procrastination
Adam Grant, organizational psychologist, and professor at Wharton Business School wrote in his book Originals that procrastinators are actually more likely to be creative because they have the opportunity to participate in divergent thinking. 1
The time given by procrastination is actually the opportunity to subconsciously think about a problem. This led to divergent thinking, — also creativity.
Here are simple steps that could give you some idea of how to purposely procrastinate for good.
1) Plan your procrastination.
Create two deadlines.
The first is for deciding on your task’s idea or vision.
The second for when you need to have the product or blog post or plan complete and finalized.
In other words, the first deadline is for creativity. The second is for productivity. The first deadline is the maximum time you can procrastinate.
2) Have a checklist or todo list
Put everything in your task list or to-do list app. Recording important tasks will free up mental bandwidth to optimize your divergent thinking.
Seeing your list helps you to choose the tasks you can procrastinate on and choose shallow tasks to do while procrastinating on big tasks.
3) Switch between unrelated tasks
Brainstorm, plan, draw, write an outline, write a draft, and do shallow research as long as you’re inspired to do it. These are all creative parts of planning. Now, instead of jumping directly to action, put the task off and work on other things on your list.
The more the tasks are unrelated, the better the creativity. Taking a break from the task is the best way to encourage divergent thinking.
This gives you the opportunity to look at your own work with fresh eyes when you come back to it after spending time on other unrelated tasks. (If you’re a designer or software engineer you would understand this better).
4) Break up the task into smaller pieces spaced out over time
The most efficient way to solve problems is to break them up into the smallest tasks.
Break each item in your checklist down into its component parts.
Set deadlines for each one. Now follow through and keep track of everything you’ve accomplished.
Remember the 3rd point. After finishing one piece from Task A, choose another small piece from Task B (the unrelated one). Don’t choose your consequent pieces from the same Task.
Remember, these are the ways to harness your procrastinating mind. I never endorse procrastination as a path to creativity.
Repeating. Strategic procrastination as an entire strategy isn’t going to work. And I am not encouraging it. I am just arguing it is not altogether a bad thing.
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