Procrastination can be a tool for productivity

I’ll start by saying that I, someone who writes as a job, am writing this column far later than I should be. In fact, I’m only starting this now that I have other commitments I should be attending to. Why?

I’m a chronic procrastinator.

For me, this affliction didn’t lie dormant until college as it does for many people. Some of my earliest memories are colored by little arguments with my mom, as 6-year-old me tried to rationalize why I had not yet started studying for the spelling test.

Piers Steel of The Psychological Bulletin defines procrastination as “a prevalent and pernicious form of self-regulatory failure that is not entirely understood.”

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The perception of procrastination as a "failure" in of itself is pervasive. This is evidenced by the socially-induced guilt most people (including myself) feel when we know we’re putting off doing something important.

When you Google “procrastination,” almost every top result is some kind of article touting “X Ways to Beat Procrastination.” I imagine these pieces receive a lot of hits around the New Year, when "new year, new me" junkies decide that this will be the year they finally cure their procrastination.

I’m not one of those people. I will defend my habit of procrastination vehemently — not because I’m lazy or unmotivated (okay, I am sometimes … ), but because procrastination has led to a lot of successes for me.

Some of my greatest academic achievements have stemmed from late nights (read: early mornings) marked by haste and anxiety. To the fabled "pre-crastinator," these may sound wholly unpleasant; for me, the self-applied minutes-to-the-deadline pressure inspires some of my most imaginative work.

When I devoid myself of the opportunity to waste even a second more time, I work in a way that is fluid and organic. I take risks I would never have the courage to make had I labored for weeks over those decisions. And I’m not alone.

Procrastinators are consistently ranked by employers as more creative than their time-managing peers. In a study at the University of Wisconsin, assistant professor Jihae Shin put this to the test by asking participants to come up with new business ideas. One group was asked to brainstorm right away, while members of the second group were given games to play to delay the process by five minutes.

When independent raters ranked the originality of the outcomes, they rated the procrastinators’ ideas as 28 percent more creative. This is not to suggest that games inspire inventiveness, but rather that people who temporary file away tasks in limbo eventually procure more original ideas.

In the words of Adam Grant, a New York Times Op-Ed writer, “When you procrastinate, you’re more likely to let your mind wander. That gives you a better chance of stumbling onto the unusual and spotting unexpected patterns.”

Surely famous procrastinators like the Dalai Lama, Frank Lloyd Wright and Leonardo da Vinci (among others) would attest to this. Each man's work should inspire student procrastinators to recognize what society denies — that their habits aren’t a surefire recipe for failure.

Procrastination, if done right and as a conscious choice, can be a tool for productivity and a breeding-ground for innovation. If you procrastinate and have found success in doing so, you shouldn’t be made to feel like a failure. Conversely, if you fear the last-minute frenzy, perhaps you should allow yourself just once to indulge in daydreaming and see where procrastination might take you.

So, everyone: get out there, and procrastinate today. Or, tomorrow …


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