I’m a procrastinator and I think it means I get more done. I’ll often go to great lengths to avoid doing something. If I need to clean the house I’ll write loads. If I need to write a blog post I’ll do all the hoovering instead and the house will be tidy. In the end everything gets done, so I’m wondering is procrastination bad for you?
Is procrastination bad for you?
Magazines like Psychology Today seem pretty sure that procrastination is highly toxic.
A quick look online reveals dozens of articles detailing how to quit your procrastination habit. I’m not terribly convinced that procrastination is bad, I think it’s misunderstood. Think of it as mental preparation and mental rest in a busy world. We seem to rate busy work as if the very act of being busy has some kind of honour. It was Bill Gates who said “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”
I now segment my work days with ‘work breaks’ in which I work quickly for a concentrated period. I seem to get more done working this way and many problems are solved by merely taking a pause. Remember, it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese not the first. There’s often no prize for trailblazing.
In praise of pausing.
“The Greeks and Romans generally regarded procrastination very highly. The wisest leaders embraced procrastination and would basically sit around and think and not do anything unless they absolutely had to” – Smithsonian Magazine
Besides which no one ever got to their deathbed and wished they’d worked more, sent more emails or instigated a few moe meetings. At the end most of us will wish that we’d loved more, that we’d had enjoyed every passing moment more.
“What a foolish thing it is to be governed by a desire for fame and profit and to fret away one’s whole life without a moment of peace” – Kenko Yoshida
Sometimes just starting a job is all that it takes. The momentum carries on until it’s done. I often find working with others is a good motivator – in our house we frequently do a ‘ten minute tidy up’, when everyone in our house does this we get a surprising amount done. Crucially, it’s not a chore. Sometimes I’ll get creatively distracted, I need to mow the lawn but instead I make a bottle garden… but then I can blog about it so it’s all good.
Busy doing nothing of real value.
I used to work for a terrible boss, an arrogant man. He would walk right past his bin to come and get someone to empty his bin. Emptying bins was beneath him. In fact making eye contact with anyone but senior staff was beneath him.
One day we’d all worked hard and fast making ‘one hour glasses’ at his opticians store. This particular day we’d put through bifocal, rimless and high prescription glasses along with the usual single vision jobs. We’d excelled. These special jobs would normally be subjected to a significant delay, but people had flights to catch and suchlike, so we’d pulled all the stops out. We had stuck our necks out, these special lenses aren’t just cut out and fitted. The back of these lenses are ground and polished, the rate of errors is much higher.
We finished all the work and before closing time the boss walked in to find us sat down. He was livid. He wanted to see us all engaged in busy work, despite the day we had had. In essence, this man would rather we pretended that there was work still to do. He was so wedded to the fictitious notion that being busy is worthy, while resting was lazy. How wrong he was: the staff turnover was high. Being a semi-skilled job meant that we were losing talent and time.