The Pros & Cons of Procrastination

tomorrow

“I never put off till tomorrow what I can possibly do the day after.”

This quote by Oscar Wilde is the exact definition of the art of procrastination: putting it off; waiting it out; placing it on the back burner.  Tomorrow is a wonderful time and an easy answer, and the day after tomorrow is even better!  There is a whole lot of motivational theory and time management principles that play in to why we procrastinate (because we all do for something some time), but in essence, procrastination is avoidance. Now I know there are readers saying to themselves, “oh, no, procrastination is {INSERT all sorts of positive justifications and reasons HERE} to which I say, I agree (see below), just hear me out!

In general, and especially in today’s pop -psychological world, avoidance is viewed as a bad thing (embrace your feelings and slay your dragons); however it serves a function too.  At a subconscious level, nobody wants to do something they won’t enjoy or they fear.  That’s human nature, so congratulations, you are normal, and your psyche is protecting you from the pain, discomfort, mistrust or boredom associated with “the task.”  Having said that, there is something to say for slaying your dragons and accomplishing things; different, uncomfortable, stressful, new or boring things and trying something new, gaining a sense of accomplishment or learning that we have to take the good with the bad are all important too!

In defense of human nature, I have created a list of all of the reasons it is totally okay to procrastinate.  Too bad for us, procrastination is often viewed negatively and the “cons” of it are quick to the tongue and many:  a person who procrastinates is wasting time and is often viewed as lazy, disorganized, rushed, ill-conceived and irresponsible.  Fair enough…..maybe.  However, it is only fair to list the pros of procrastination as well….if it wasn’t so, it wouldn’t be such a powerfully demotivating force.   The list below explains and justifies both sides of the pacing and pressure-cooking procrastinative personality who is driven and defined by coffee and all-nighters!

PRO: you get a LOT of other things done when you procrastinate.  It is amazing how many fridges get cleaned out, batteries changed, groceries gotten, emails written, Christmas lists made and driveways shovelled when one is putting of “the task.”

CON:  You are avoiding something which tells your brain that “the task” is to be…avoided.  Your brain (ever the animal) then interprets said task as dangerous, poisonous, threatening, maddening, saddening or destructive.  The more often you avoid, the more often your brain attaches these emotions….this is going to make it a weee bit tougher to call on said brain to be all of a sudden creative, accepting and embracing of “the task” when the time comes.

PRO:  You brain is designed for survival, and so you will.  Whether by avoidance or by conquering “the task” your mind will give you whatever you need to survive (i.e. the project completed).  This looks like success; however most often, you have done only the bare minimum or just enough in order to finish.  Consider how many times you say to yourself “whatever” or “good enough” as you write, build, create or complete at the last minute.

CON:  Along with said emotions and interpretations noted above which begin to accompany every thought regarding “the task”, and the impending deadline, you are flooding your mind and body with stress hormones.  When the TIME COMES it’s do or die which feels a lot like fight or flight to your brain.  Adrenaline, cortisol and the like are stress hormones and add to inflammation, irritability, high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, gastrointestinal issues, etc.

PRO:  If you’re lucky, after time the project or task is cancelled or no longer required and you saved yourself a lot of work.

CON: If you’re not lucky, the deadline gets moved up and you get thrown into a coffee-driven all-nighter complete with lots of junk-food, panic and ‘splainin to do.

PRO:  You have time to think about and consider your M.O. and gather all of the required information.  New information may come along or a new method may be discovered; a new idea may spontaneously come to you while you wait to start…a better idea, so I should wait……just in case.

CON: You cannot be very creative or make any adjustments at the last minute.  You get it done.  Even when you are on a role and ideas start flooding, they are on paper before your brain or imagination has had time to work with it.  We know that over time ideas evolve and grow and new “aha moments” bubble to the surface.  If you’ve waited to start, there’s no time for the ideas to finish creating.  Scratch that:  the ideas keep growing and coming, but you had to hand it in, so it’s too late to make additions.

PRO: There is some truth to the “I work better under pressure mantra.”  There are studies that show a “sweet spot” for anxiety and drive that enable our brains and show up and provide a peak performance when there is something at stake.

CON: This better under pressure thing only works when everything else is ideal and the universe presses all the “perfect condition” buttons in your life.  You can’t get sick.  The power cannot go out.  You cannot be needed to watch children or clean up dog crap.  Your car cannot break down or internet crash, not your car crash and your internet break down.  Your mom can’t need you to fix something or your boss need to help with a different project.  You can’t break a tooth or get sick (I said that one twice cuz your running on adrenaline and it’s going to happen…..).  If you can be absolutely certain that everything else in your life is going to be ROCK solid, then by all means….wait until the last minute and CRAM!  On another note, the “work best under pressure brain showing up with a peak performance thing” really only applies to things you WANT to accomplish.  Those tasks you are ever-avoiding will still be only as good as they’ll ever be.

If you struggle with procrastination keep this in mind: the hardest part is the start.  The rest will come.  Say it over and over to your brain…if you can get past the first step, then you are well on your way.  Your brain gets into “the task” and takes over.  This is often accompanied by the adrenaline rush and a tease of that sense of accomplishment.  Just start.  Take baby steps (anything is overwhelming if it’s a ginormous undertaking?!).  I always like to start with a quote…find what kick-starts your “go” and it’ll be tomorrow before you know it!

A.

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2 comments on “The Pros & Cons of Procrastination

  1. Roger Creasy says:

    Good post! I linked to it from my blog post Deadlines – Don’t change them!

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