Good Procrastination, Bad Procrastination

When procrastinating can be a good thing to do….. 

What do you think of when I say the word “procrastination” to you?  Often we look at procrastination we see it as something that we do but should not – it is about creating delay, avoiding work, or putting off those things that we don’t want to do so we can do that which we like or want to do. Often when doing so we feel guilty.

But procrastination is not black or white, but shades of gray. Let me explain.

I see three types of procrastination which are dependent on what you are doing instead of what you could be working, these are:

  1. nothing,
  2. something less important, or
  3. something more important.

Out of the above three types, I would suggest that the last – doing something more important – is good procrastination.  Why is this? Procrastination is not just about what you do or not do, it is not even just about the priorities (or lack of) that you have, rather it is about the opportunity cost of how you spend your time. Opportunity cost is about the benefits you could have received but have foregone by choosing one alternative over another. In terms of procrastination, when you choose to spend your time doing on one alternative then you forego the benefits that you could have realized from choosing another.  This is important, as time is a scarce resource – once you have used it you can never get it back. No matter how rich, how powerful, or how smart you are we only have 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour and 6o seconds in a minute. Time spent can never be regained!

If you are a good procrastinator you focus on the important stuff and put off the “small stuff” – those things which do not really matter and which do not progress you in what you are looking to achieve. By doing this the benefits you have not realized from doing the small stuff are outweighed by the benefits you have realized from doing the important stuff – this is why it is good procrastination, it is the best use of your time. If you focus on the small stuff then you are doing better than if you are doing nothing, but not as well as if you were working on the important stuff; and if you do nothing, then you incur higher opportunity costs as you have failed to use that time to realize any possible benefits. So good procrastination is about avoiding the smaller stuff to focus on the important work.

So how do you know if you are spending your time most effectively and that you are exercising good procrastination and not a form of bad procrastination? Ask yourself this one question:

“What’s the best thing you could be working on, and why aren’t you?

The kicker here is the second part of the question! You need, to be honest with yourself and to identify the barriers that are making it hard for you to do so. I always use the Five Whys tool where you take the initial statement and then ask “Why?” up to five times – this helps you to identify what the root of the problem is that needs to be dealt with, rather than dealing with just the symptom.  For example:

“I don’t know where to start on this project”

Why?

“Because I am not sure of what the outcomes are I am looking for”

Why?

“Because I have not determined what is in the scope of the project”

Why?

There are several ways I could approach this project.

Why?

“Because my boss wants a variety of things but I don’t know what is important to her”

Ah-hah! – the underlying problem, or the root of the problem, is that you don’t know what the boss wants to achieve from the project – not that you don’t know where to start. So the action for you is to go and talk to your boss – this will help you get started and stop procrastinating!

The process of good procrastination is simple, but it is not easy – this is why so many people slip into habits of bad procrastination instead. Use this approach to help you and see the benefits come to you over time.  So when are you going to start doing this?

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