How many times have you waited until the last second to study, write, do the dishes or email a client?
We’ve all been guilty of this from time-to-time. That’s why when you search Google for tips on how to stop procrastinating, the Big G will come back with around 2.5 million results.
But, is procrastination really that bad?
“Historically, for human beings, procrastination has not been regarded as a bad thing,” says Frank Partnoy, author of Wait: The Art and Science of Delay. “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.”
“The idea that procrastination is bad really started in the Puritanical era with Jonathan Edwards’s sermon against procrastination. Then came the American embrace of “a stitch in time saves nine,” and this sort of work ethic that required immediate and diligent action.”
“But if you look at recent studies, managing delay is an important tool for human beings.” For example, when we manage delay people are more successful and happier. This includes people who can’t wake up at 5:15am.
Adam Grant, a professor of management at Wharton and author of the book Originals, agrees.
In Ancient Egypt procrastination was defined as, “Waiting for the right time.” This idea has since been embraced by great thinkers and creators like Steve Jobs.
“The time Steve Jobs was putting things off and noodling on possibilities was time well spent in letting more divergent ideas come to the table, as opposed to diving right in with the most conventional, the most obvious, the most familiar,” Grant told Business Insider.
“I think the idea of delaying is something we all need to be comfortable with, because you can’t rush creativity,” he added.
Related: 11 Ways to Beat Procrastination
Other successful procrastinators throughout history include Leonardo Da Vinci, Frank Lloyd Wright, Thomas Jefferson, Bill Clinton, Mark Twain, Margaret Atwood and the Dalai Lama. Not a bad group to be associated with, right?
Does that mean we should all start putting things off?
“Some scientists have argued that there are two kinds of procrastination: active procrastination and passive procrastination,” says Partnoy. “Active procrastination means you realize that you are unduly delaying mowing the lawn or cleaning your closet, but you are doing something that is more valuable instead. Passive procrastination is just sitting around on your sofa not doing anything. That clearly is a problem.”
Passive procrastination can lead to stress and anxiety. Other cons of passive procrastination include not doing the task to your full ability and sitting in disorganization. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how procrastination works and how it can help you rue the business world.
Why we procrastinate.
You can thank biology for your procrastination. The limbic system, the dominant and “unconscious zone that includes the pleasure center,” is battling the prefrontal cortex. This is a weaker region of the brain and is the “internal planner.”
Timothy A. Pychyl Ph.D., author of The Procrastinator’s Digest: A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, explains that the prefrontal cortex is the portion of the brain that separates us from animals. Animals are “just controlled by stimulus.” Since there’s nothing automatic about this weaker area of our brains we sometimes have to give it a kick.
When we’re not focused, the limbic system will take control. As a result, it makes us give in to what feels good. In this case, it’s procrastination.
But, biology is not the only reason why we procrastinate.
Shahram Heshmat, Ph.D., is an associate professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Heshmat adds that procrastination can be caused by an absence of structure. “The lack of imposed direction that’s become common in the workplace might contribute to the increase in procrastination.”
“The collapse of the delay between impulse and decision inevitably favors impulse (e.g., checking Facebook instead of doing work); our easy online access makes urges easy to gratify,” writes Dr. Heshmat.
Other reasons for procrastinating include is working on a task you consider unpleasant. We consider the timing of the reward and punishment, anxiety, and lack of self-confidence.
How procrastination benefits entrepreneurs and business owners.
“The most impressive people I know are all terrible procrastinators,” writes Paul Graham. “There are three variants of procrastination, depending on what you do instead of working on something: you could work on (a) nothing, (b) something less important, or (c) something more important. That last type, I’d argue, is good procrastination.”
“That’s the “absent-minded professor,” who forgets to shave, or eat, or even perhaps look where he’s going while he’s thinking about some interesting question. His mind is absent from the everyday world because it’s hard at work in another.”
“That’s the sense in which the most impressive people I know are all procrastinators. They’re type-C procrastinators: they put off working on small stuff to work on big stuff.”
Simply put, “Good procrastination is avoiding errands to do real work.” You notice that some of those unnecessary tasks or errands will eventually disappear.
But, that’s just the beginning. Here are the main reasons why you should embrace procrastination.
Structured procrastinators get more done.
Do you have a task that you want to put off? Perry states that structured procrastinators will find something else to replace it. For example, you may send out bills and invoice your clients immediately. But, you will get to researching your market in the end.
“This isn’t bad because you’ve gotten all of those other things done in the meantime,” says Jon Perry, a professor at Stanford and author of The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging, and Postponing. “If you had done the assigned task first, you might have called it a day and not accomplished anything else.”
Procrastinators make better decisions.
“We like to believe there is wisdom in our snap decisions and sometimes there is,” writes Partnoy.
“But true wisdom and judgment come from understanding our limitations when it comes to thinking about the future. That is why it is so important for us to think about the relevant time period of our decisions. Ask what is the maximum amount of time we can take within that period to observe and process information about possible outcomes?”
It gives an energy boost.
“We typically procrastinate on tasks we don’t like or that we know are difficult or tedious. We have low energy to do these tasks, and fear of a looming deadline releases adrenaline which is an energy source,” writes Steve McClatchy, president of Alleer Training & Consulting and the author of Decide: Work Smarter, Reduce Your Stress And Lead by Example.
“Procrastination is using fear as a motivator. As a deadline approaches, we fear the consequences of not getting it done on time. That fear releases adrenaline, a natural pain killer, and feeling less pain makes doing difficult or less desirable tasks easier. Energy is the strongest benefit of procrastination.”
“Creativity is the process of generating new ideas out of combinations of old ideas. In the Creativity Feedback Loop, you have time to think about the ideas and consider them from many different angles,” states Meridith Dennes, Co-Founder of Project Eve, in the Huffington Post.
“You have the time to come up with better alternatives. Most importantly, you have the time to discuss your ideas with more people and get their feedback. That feedback ultimately results in better ideas and decisions. Entrepreneurship demands creative solutions.”
“Things don’t always go as planned and the more nimble and flexible you are the better the results. A little procrastination can go a long way.”
Leaving things until the last minute is a way of budgeting your time.
“Most procrastinators are (sort of) perfectionists. As long as they have a lot of time to do a task, they fantasize about doing a perfect job,” writes Perry.
“Leaving it till the last minute is a way of giving oneself permission to do a merely adequate job. 99 percent of the time a merely adequate job is all that is needed.”
Procrastination helps with focus, makes us work faster, and makes everything else seem easier.
McClatchy says, “Waiting until the last possible time to do a task keeps us laser-focused on the task while we are doing it.” This is because we’re not distracted by phone calls or emails.
Additionally, because there’s not as much time available to complete the task, we get it done faster.
And, doing tasks like “checking inventory for your project is easy compared to that thing you are avoiding. This lets you get all the other little things off your to-do list painlessly since you are happy to avoid doing the one thing you are procrastinating over.”
Making procrastination work for you.
Instead of trying to “cure” procrastination, embrace and use it to your benefit.
This, of course, can be overwhelming when staring down your largest and most important tasks. But, take the advice of Graham and start small. Working on those smaller tasks will eventually lead you into conquering those biggers tasks since you got some confidence built.
You also want to start rethinking your to-do-lists. For example, place tasks that aren’t as important at the top of your to-do-lists. It tricks you into avoiding them so you’ll focus on the other tasks on your list.
Perry also suggests that you overcommit. This way you have fewer times to do nothing. While Raymond Chandler sets boundaries, he writes or he can’t do anything else.
Finally, make use of technology. There are no shortage of apps that automate tasks, organize your lists, eliminate distractions, and send you daily reminders.