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Meet the most successful procrastinators in the world. Steve Jobs is known to be a chronic procrastinator. Bill Clinton famously always left the final revision of his speeches until the last minute, causing his aides a lot of angst and stress. Frank Lloyd Wright once procrastinated on a commission for almost a year. He finally started the job when he got word that his patron was driving out to visit and to see his progress. He completed the work in the time it took to drive to his home, and it became the great masterpiece “Fallingwater.” The famous screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (of “The West Wing” fame) procrastinates to such a degree that he sometimes gives actors their scripts in the middle of the show. In fact, despite its bad rep, many argue that procrastination is a hallmark of creativity.
It’s difficult to believe this philosophy when we have been so thoroughly indoctrinated to perceive procrastination as a flaw. There have been hundreds of self-help books and articles dedicated to helping people overcome it. However, procrastination is actually a very complex issue without a simple explanation.
To fully understand why someone procrastinates, we need to look at other activities that person engages in while avoiding tasks, as well as the nature of the tasks that s/he avoids.
According to successful entrepreneur Paul Graham, there are three different categories of procrastination, which are classified based on the activities that you engage in instead of doing a designated task:
- You do nothing,
- You do something less important, or
- You do something more important.
So if you are a Type 3 procrastinator, this can actually be very beneficial! Instead of grocery shopping or showering (eek!), you may be composing beautiful music or creating a great work of literature.
The reality is, whether good or bad, it’s simply human nature to procrastinate. As such, we need to find ways to accept it and work with it instead of trying simplistic and ineffective ways to squelch it. But how to explain that to a future employer? It’s safe to say that bosses are not impressed by procrastination. It’s commonly viewed as a sign of laziness, disorganization, and unreliability. Some of these things may be true, to a degree. However, it’s only fair to list some of the positive aspects of procrastination, to show how procrastinators can be characterized as passionate, driven, and highly creative.
- That Burst of Energy
What is the main reason we put off doing a task?
Because we don’t want to. It’s that simple.
We put off tasks that we don’t enjoy doing, usually things that are difficult, unpleasant, or just plain boring. Because of our lack of motivation, we don’t have much energy to accomplish these tasks. The fear and adrenaline rush of a looming deadline suddenly gives us that energy we’ve been lacking. In fact, this is one of the many hidden motives of procrastination. When there is not much else to motivate, fear can always be counted on to do the trick. The fear of consequences for missing a work deadline is indeed a powerful motivator. This fear releases adrenaline, which naturally kills our pain and makes this otherwise painful task suddenly much easier. So procrastinators are actually pretty smart. They are using their natural instincts of fear to gain the burst of energy they need in order to accomplish an unpleasant task.
How to make this “hidden” benefit of procrastination seem appealing to an employer? Show him/her that you always get the work done on time even if it may be at the eleventh hour, and that you bring much more passion and energy to it than someone who does the job just so they can tick another item off their list.
- I Work Better Under Pressure!
How many times have you heard (or used) that excuse? Well, it turns out that it may be true.
One of the greatest enemies to a procrastinator is distraction. Email messages, social media notifications, phone calls, friends dropping by to chat: we will seize on any or all of these things as a valid reason for not completing a task. But if it’s the last possible minute, we have no choice but to deliver a laser focus to the task. We will turn off our phone and sign out of Facebook in order to make sure that we can get it done. And research shows that this kind of anxiety activates the part of our brain that heightens awareness so that we provide peak performance when there is something at stake.
And what to tell your boss about this one? Show him/her that you have the ability to give such focus to a task that it can be done very well and thoroughly, even if it is the last minute.
- Faster Than a Speeding Bullet
Here is a hidden benefit to procrastination: if you have less time, you get things done in less time. By avoiding tasks that we don’t like, we ensure that this unpleasant, boring, brain-draining chore will only be in our lives for a short time. That translates into more time spent on things that we enjoy.
And from the perspective of our employer, that means he/she can count on us when the pressure is on to get a task done quickly… because we’re used to that.
- I Haven’t Made a Decision Yet
Decision-making is one of those unpleasant tasks that we like to postpone. But as it turns out, there may be very good reasons for this. Giving yourself time to gather and process all the information and absorb new ideas can actually lead to unexpected insights and better decisions.
And from your employer’s standpoint, what’s not to love about an effective decision-maker?
- I’m Secretly a Creative Genius
Creative ideas take a long time to percolate. Da Vinci took 16 years to paint the Mona Lisa because he kept getting distracted with other tasks. It turns out that these “distractions” (such as experiments with optics) ultimately made him a much better painter.
While it’s not very realistic to expect your employer to give you 16 years to complete a project, it’s useful to recognize that some of the greatest, and most inspirational, accomplishments are also those that take the longest.
- Maybe I Just Won’t Have to Do It
This is the secret hope of every procrastinator.
“If I put it off long enough, maybe someone else will just do it instead.”
Well, in the workplace, this actually happens sometimes. Eventually if that task keeps getting shoved farther and farther down your list, someone else may just step up and get it done, relieving you of what you had been dreading…thus freeing you up for jobs that offer you more inspiration.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, this can actually be seen as beneficial in the workplace. More time for you can translate into more important tasks getting accomplished.
- A Job Well-Done… Kind of
For many procrastinators, the fear of failure is so severe that it causes them to leave a big task until the last possible minute. Then, any inadequacies in the finished product can be blamed on a lack of time. It forces those of us who are chronic perfectionists to give in and say: “This is really the best I can do.”
I would say that any employer should be happy to have a staff member who will go to great lengths to avoid failure. Perfectionism is a desirable trait in an employee.
- Fewer unnecessary tasks
Very often, we are postponing tasks because they do not fit with our larger goals, our hopes and dreams for the future.
By postponing these non-essential tasks, we are leaving ourselves free for the work that really matters to us.
This can make us a more desirable employee because of our ability to prioritize. We are able to accomplish the greater vision of what our job entails because we are not bogged down in petty details.
So… It’s Okay That I Procrastinate?
The bottom line is, whether good or bad, okay or not, procrastination is a complex behavior, and it will not just magically go away. Therefore, it’s best to use it to your advantage. There is definitely a strategy involved in “good” procrastination. Use it to help you motivate or to reduce the time that you spend on routine tasks, so that you can spend more time on the things that really matter.
A little procrastination for the right reasons can be beneficial. But make sure that when it comes to high-priority projects, you plan ahead and give yourself deadlines along the way to produce that energy-boosting adrenaline rush.
And put that awesome, crazy, procrastinator energy to work where it counts.
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Samantha Wilson, guest writer
Samantha Wilson is an irrepressible writer from http://www.essay-writing-place.com/. She is passionate about languages, cats and books. A favorite phrase of her father has become her guideline in life: “Every book is like a string of your heart – once you touch it, you will always remember the feeling”. Don’t be shy to write a line to her on Twitter.