If however, you belong to the species of – occasional or regular – “procrastinators”, I have surprising news for you. Procrastination is your friend. At least it can be. Let me share how I discovered this unlikely friendship. For this, I first want to give credit to Cory Little, a formidable executive coach, and wonderful human being, for changing the way I think about procrastination forever. I’m grateful for the many wonderful conversations I’ve had with Cory, but above all, for the time she asked me why I thought I procrastinate. ‘Why?’ I repeated to myself. ‘You mean there might be a good reason to procrastinate?’ That was a revolutionary thought.
I started thinking about it and even started to love the word. Don’t you think it is a cool word? So unusual, yet memorable. A tongue twister – ‘/prə(ʊ)ˌkrastɪˈneɪʃ(ə)n/‘– yet sophisticated. It comes from Latin and literally means onward to tomorrow. We all do that with items on our ‘to do’ list from time to time. But as Cory helped me understand, the key question is to understand why we do it.
It serves a purpose?
There are oh, so many reasons people procrastinate, and it’s rarely as simple as sheer laziness. After all, to procrastinate is to decide to do something – just not yet! So what purpose does this ubiquitous ‘bad’ habit serve?
It could be that you’re anxious about doing whatever it is you should be doing. Well, then, think about the positive effect of procrastination in that context. It protects you from anxiety and perhaps prevents you from doing something badly because you’re just not yet ready for it. Maybe on balance you should do it anyway, but it’s not that procrastinating serves no purpose at all.
Or you may simply procrastinate because you enjoy baking cakes, weeding the garden, or whatever else you do when you should be doing ‘the thing’. In that case, your procrastination reflex helps you to do stuff you like. Again, maybe you should really be doing something else, but enjoying yourself is not bad per se, right?
It spurs your creativity
Another common reason could be your ambition and high standards – aka perfectionism. In this case, your dear friend procrastination serves the purpose of making sure you deliver to your own high standards. This is certainly the case for me. I confess, I’m a perfectionist and that won’t be news to anyone who works with me. But there’s a big difference between putting something off indefinitely because you’re afraid of disappointing yourself and procrastinating as part of the creative process.
It builds your performance muscle
In order to be at my best and produce results that make me proud, I need at least two things. First, I need a period of gestation: carrying an idea inside me in order to mentally structure it. This is about ruminating, evaluating, strategizing in the back of my mind. It feels like a semi-conscious brainstorming and creative design process within myself. And while I procrastinate this process runs on autopilot. Second, I need pressure to perform. I know, that’s not always cool and easy to handle, but that’s how my performance muscle works, and procrastinating helps build that muscle. So once I understood how procrastination serves my needs, I learned to manage it for optimum effect – without driving the people around me (too) crazy.
It is your (temporary) friend
This was the day I understood procrastination is not the enemy, but my friend. A really good friend. But we don’t spend 24/7 with our friends, right? Not even with our best friends. So just like other reasons for procrastinating, mine has its limits. I’ve learned to enjoy the benefits of time with my friend, and then, when the time is right, I say: “Thanks so much, my friend. We had a great time! And now… see you later, procrastinator!”