When Is Procrastination A Good Thing?

I’ve always been a "doer." Give me a task list a mile long, and with laser focus I’ll try to complete it before lunch. But give me a short list with a few to-dos and they just sit there. When I was in a corporate setting and had bosses to answer to, I’d overcome this procrastination by taking a walk around the block, filing old papers or cleaning my office. With a renewed sense of vigor an hour or so later, I’d jump back into my chair and complete my list before I left for the day. When I launched my own business a few years ago and procrastination started rearing its ugly head, there was no one but myself to answer to. I started to wonder, is procrastination ever a good thing?

There are gobs of articles out there that talk about why procrastination is bad and can lead to anxiety and stress, or that dole out tips on how to overcome it. Yet I never felt bad about my procrastination since I always knew I’d get the tasks done by deadline, self-imposed or not. So why should I feel the need to "cure" it? 

It wasn’t until I stumbled across the concept of active procrastination, developed by A.H.C Chu and J.N. Choi, that I began to embrace my behavior. A study, done by the Department of Organizational Psychology at Columbia University, presented findings which showed that active procrastinators are not paralyzed by indecision, nor do they fail to complete tasks on time. Instead, they prefer to work under pressure and tend to have a higher self-efficacy than their passive counterparts.

It turns out that my higher-value procrastination — doing something of positive value — doesn’t mean I’m wasting my time, but instead I'm lighting my internal fire. University of San Diego professor, Frank Partnoy, a self-described procrastinator, claims that people are more successful and happier when they manage delay. According to Mr. Partnoy, better decisions are made if you can give yourself time to get your head around what you need to do. If you’re not backed up against an immediate deadline, he suggests taking time to ruminate. Relax your brain and let the ideas flow. Create a mental framework, some kind of outline for what’s to come. 

Now that I am completely in control of my schedule, I accomplish my more menial tasks first. Social media posts, my wellness vacation proposals, and anything else that involves more of a checklist approach feel almost easy and systematic to complete. For my larger to-dos, especially those that involve blogging, I allow myself time to come up with an article idea and step away. When doing so, I find myself more focused and creative when I return to the task — especially when up against a deadline. Turns out that my procrastination (or managed delay, as I now call it) wasn’t such a bad thing. Maybe that means I'll finally write that book that I've been thinking about one day.


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