Over the past few months, I’ve received several LinkedIn InMails asking if I struggle with procrastination. I’ve also come across what seems to me to be an increasing number of articles with titles such as “Procrastination: Why It Happens and How to Overcome It” or “Procrastination: A Scientific Guide on How to Stop Procrastinating.” The assumption that I would want to stop or overcome my procrastination propensity feels odd to me. I don’t regard procrastination as a problem; I see it as my superpower.
Here are two examples (out of hundreds) of how I’ve used procrastination to my advantage and why I am more purposeful about it today than ever.
Years ago, I was asked to develop action steps for updating a Fortune 50 company’s crisis communication plan. I worked for a multinational agency then, and we had just been awarded this assignment. After reading the thorough, well-written plan, I was stumped about how to improve it. My “action steps” document for taking the plan to the next level was due first thing Monday morning. I should have spent the weekend pouring through the material and pounding the keys on my laptop. Instead, I did nothing. By Sunday evening, I had yet to address it. At 8:00 PM, rather than start writing the action steps, I sat in front of the TV to watch CSI: Las Vegas.
The TV show gave me the clue I needed to get started. I wasn’t going to fix the plan by reading and re-reading it. I needed to study the forensic evidence, if you will, from all the times the plan fell short to find its cracks and weaknesses. With that inspiration, it took me less than an hour to complete the document describing our approach and email it to the client. The client loved the idea, and it served as the foundation for a successful engagement.
I didn’t procrastinate out of arrogance, laziness, or to be cavalier. I waited until Sunday night because I wasn’t ready. I was missing something, and I believed that if I kept the task in the back of my mind and allowed whatever situation I was experiencing to reveal itself to me, there would be an answer – if I were patient enough to wait for it.
I was flying home on Air Canada one day, thinking I had a three-hour presentation the following morning, which I had yet to start creating. I had the basic outline in my head, but I was searching for a new central story that could serve as a powerful metaphor for driving the conversation I wanted with my audience. After previous internet searches yielded nothing, I remained at a loss. For me, it’s usually a sign to stop working and start relaxing, despite having to be onstage in less than a day. Reviewing the inflight entertainment and ordering a glass of wine, I noticed a documentary titled The Last Milestone. It was the story of Eliud Kipchoge (world record holder for the marathon) working with an incredible team to create conditions allowing a human to complete the 26.2-mile distance in under 2 hours. (Which he did as part of the INEOS 1:59 Challenge).
As you may have guessed, that was my answer – the story I was looking for – one that communicated every conceivable element of teamwork and purpose I could have imagined. The story’s moral here isn’t to watch more TV; it’s to trust yourself, be patient, and be open to what the world has to share. It’s among countless examples of how the longer I wait, the better the work becomes.
While most articles on procrastination tend to treat it as a disease, The Atlantic ran a piece in 2021 by Arthur C. Brooks titled Procrastinate This, Not That: Putting things off can improve your performance – if you do it right. Here’s a quote from the article:
“Procrastination gets a bad rap. And indeed, putting off necessary, routine responsibilities will make your work pile up and is almost always detrimental to your well-being. But deployed strategically with certain creative tasks, a little procrastination can actually be beneficial. So pay your electric bill and do the dishes right now. But you might want to put off that writing assignment for a day or two.”
Admittedly, I have the luxury of procrastinating in a manner only available to some. For example, I am typically the only one affected when I procrastinate. If I choose to get up at 3:00 AM on the day of an event to create something I should have completed three weeks earlier, that’s on me. I am not imposing on others to live with how I work.
In addition to the few examples I offered earlier, I’ve discovered that the longer I wait, the more I learn, and the better the work becomes. I like drawing upon all the assets I have in the moment and the energy that helps me bring the work to life. Procrastination is not a disease from which you should necessarily wish to be cured. Employed properly, it could become your superpower.
*Note: I’ve been thinking about writing this article for months now. So glad I put it off.
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