Magazine article Success

Productive Procrastination: The Advantages of Starting Tomorrow

Magazine article Success

Productive Procrastination: The Advantages of Starting Tomorrow

Article excerpt

As a freelance writer who works from home, I spend a lot of time procrastinating (if I have ever met you, even in passing, I have Facebooked/Googled you, just FYI). But I spend even more time beating myself up about my procrastination. After all, when you think of the positive attributes of yourself or someone else, "big procrastinator" never makes the list.

For most of us, procrastination is synonymous with lazy. But what if we looked at procrastination differently? I was complaining one day to my sister, who happens to be an ADHD coach whose job is to help people who are "stuck in unproductive habits," about how I couldn't seem to overcome my pathological leave-it-till-laterness. "Patty, procrastinating is just part of your process," she said. "You're doing fine." It is? I am?

I just might be. In fact, procrastination can be a good thing, when used strategically. "People who procrastinate carry an unfair amount of guilt. But some of the most successful people in the world are procrastinators," says Rory Vaden, author of Take the Stairs. In his latest book, Procrastinate on Purpose, Vaden says he is "inviting people to wait until the last minute. And I don't think that's a bad thing." What is a bad thing? Berating yourself as lazy, unmotivated and inefficient for not buckling down and crossing items off your to-do list every minute of the day. Procrastination can actually help you work better, faster and more creatively. And if your house gets cleaned and your socks get matched as a side effect, all the better. Here's how to procrastinate positively.

The Plus Sides of Procrastination

When you postpone doing something, "your subconscious is still working on the task," says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of Better Than Perfect: 7 Steps to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love. When you go for a run or walk, or suddenly decide that you need to vacuum under all the beds in your home or to organize your kids' Lego collection instead of sitting down in front of your computer, you are allowing ideas to gestate and percolate. It may feel like you're wasting time, but you're actually giving your brain time to get around the project.

"Mind-wandering," as experts call it, has been shown to increase creativity, says Srinivasan Pillay, M.D., a neuroscientist and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who coaches companies and executives on productivity. "If you're looking for a creative solution, then procrastination can be very helpful." For me, most of my procrastination happens after I do the research for a story, but before I start writing. Perfecting my online word-game skills, I now know, is not entirely mindless. It's mind -wandering. I'm letting the information sink in and synthesizing it so that when I do sit down to write, I'm really ready.

Procrastination also allows stress to build up as due dates approach. This anxiety can motivate you to get the job done, Pillay says. The century-old Yerkes-Dodson law holds that there's an inverted U-shaped relationship between stress and performance. According to it, performance improves as stress (arousal) increases, to a point. If you can harness the anxiety of an imminent due date instead of letting it overwhelm you, then procrastination can be a legitimate productivity strategy. (If the constant stress leads to burnout, however, you'll need to rethink your habit, Pillay says.)

Sometimes procrastinating is not only beneficial, but necessary, Vaden says. "We're all so trained to think that it's best to get things done right away, but that's not always the smartest thing to do. …

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