Monday Mornings with Madison

The Power of Procrastination

Procrastination has been defined as the act of replacing high-priority or important actions with tasks of lower priority, and putting off important tasks to a later time.  Some industrial psychologists consider it procrastination if the action is counterproductive, needless, and delaying.  Others consider it procrastination if a course of action is voluntarily delayed despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.

Regardless of the definition, procrastination and procrastinators are generally viewed in a purely negative light.  However, the truth is that every person procrastinates sometimes.  But, according to Psychology Today, only about 20 percent of people are true procrastinators… those who consistently avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions.  How do you know if you or one of your employees is part of the 20% that are true procrastinators?  And, if so, is procrastination always a bad thing?

Spotting the Procrastinator

Are you or one of your workers a part of the 20% who are the true procrastinators?  As the old joke says, If, when asked ‘When are you going to get help for your procrastination problem?, you answer “One of these days.”, then you are a procrastinator.  All kidding aside, here are some behaviors that can help spot a procrastinator:

  • Work on projects in the order of due date, not in order of priority or importance
  • Ignore a task, hoping against hope that it will go away even on tasks where there is no chance that the task will go away (ie, filing taxes or paying a bill)
  • Over- or under-estimate the degree of difficulty that the task involves (ie, prepare a sales plan in an hour)
  • Minimize the impact that performance on the task will have on future success (ie, an updated business plan is not really pivotal for the company to have a good year)
  • Substitute something really important for something that is also important (ie, need to complete the weekly expense report so I don’t have time to do the Client Proposal)
  • Let a short break become a long one, or into an afternoon in which no work is done (ie, let me walk the sales floor to make sure everything is running smoothly and I can work on the year-end report tomorrow)
  • Focus on one part of the task, at the expense of the rest (ie, revise and revamp the numbers on the Budget Forecast and put off setting the goals, strategies, and timeline)
  • Spend too much time researching or deciding on a course of action but not actually moving forward (ie, reviewing a marketing plan but never deciding which strategies to approve and which to reject)
  • Finish a project hours or even minutes before it is actually due

True procrastinators are those individuals who exhibit most or all of these behaviors regularly.  Based on this, it would seem that procrastination is the worst of flaws and one that has no value in any workplace.  It would certainly seem that way given that there are over 600 books on how to overcome this bad habit.

Structured Procrastination

That said, blogger and college professor John Perry developed a concept called structured procrastination, which presumes to convert procrastinators into effective individuals by exploiting the behavior.  As he points out, “All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you.”  The fundamental key to Perry’s idea is that procrastination does not mean doing absolutely nothing.  Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing.  Rather, they typically do less useful or important things. Perry suggested a procrastinator could be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as those tasks were effectively avoiding doing other more important tasks.  As he explained it, “structured procrastination means shaping the structure of the tasks one has to do in a way that exploits this fact.”  While Perry’s argument may be a bit tongue-n-cheek, it could have some merit.  Procrastination is not always a bad thing.

Benefits of Procrastination

Indeed, procrastination could actually be good in some cases.  There appears to be some actual benefits to procrastination, depending on the job.

  1. Last minute changes don’t need to be incorporated into a project because it can be done the first time around.
  2. Projects that are canceled midway through don’t result in time wasted.
  3. Problems may end up getting solved without any effort on your part.
  4. Someone may come to the rescue and do the task, freeing you up to do other things.
  5. Procrastination provides space to allow your ideas to fully form.
  6. Procrastination gives you time to build up the courage needed to handle the challenge.
  7. Procrastination provides time to gather energy and prepare.

Of course, procrastination can quickly become destructive if fear and avoidance override the conscious will.  It is best to be honest about goals, capabilities and options at all times and avoid slipping into behavior that can definitely cause problems later.  But if you find yourself putting off some important task, find another important task to do in the meantime and consider whether there may be any benefit in waiting.

Quote of the Week

“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.” Mark Twain


© 2012, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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