Monday, March 22, 2010

Procrastination Can Be Good

Procrastination isn't all bad, I think. Our culture focuses so much on keeping busy and looking productive rather than thinking, preparing, and anticipating. If your mind isn't ready to focus on the task at hand, working on the task may be just as 'unproductive' as procrastinating. Or worse: if you are mindlessly completing tasks without thinking about the bigger picture, you may end up doing something that will be unnecessary or obsolete in the longer term.

I dislike discovering I've 'wasted time' doing something that was going to be undone anyway, like when I wash a load of whites and then realize that there was a hamper full of additional whites upstairs that should have been laundered in the same load. (A waste of water and energy!)

The Free Dictionary reports a definition of procrastination as,
To put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness.

I guess it's true that sometimes I am putting off doing something because I am enjoying some down time, but I don't think of procrastination as being non-productive every time. I can think of a lot of tasks that I have completed while I was procrastinating about doing something else.

Most every large school assignment I completed in college was preceded by every other thing I could think to do. Sure, that meant I watched some movies or went out with friends, but it also meant that I did all my laundry or cleaned the walls in our dingy apartment bathroom. There was something about sitting down to write or study in an orderly space that helped me to focus. The time spent cleaning often didn't require a lot of brain power and I was able to think about what I was going to say or focus on when the time came to sit down.

These days I am just as likely to forget about something that I need to do as procrastinate about it. My mind is constantly shifting from here and now tasks of child and home care to planning our schedule in advance, working on my volunteer work, attempting to progress in my declutter challenge, etc. etc. I don't have a perfect system for keeping track of everything, but generally things don't slip through the cracks of my mind for too long at a time.

When I do procrastinate about something, it is usually for one of three reasons:
  • I dread performing the task; I'm not in the mood.
  • I feel uncomfortable about doing the task (it is something unfamiliar or awkward)
  • I'm undecided about the task; is this really what I want to do? I'm hesistant about making a commitment.
When I'm procrastinating because I am dreading or feeling uncomfortable about the task, often it helps to commit to forging ahead. I find it motivating to promise myself a reward--and usually the reward is to work on a task that I want to work on. I say to myself, "You can't work on your fun stuff until you do this yucky tedious stuff first."

When I recognize that I my procrastination is due to feeling undecided or noncommittal, I continue to hold off. Maybe my feelings of procrastination are trying to tell me that something is a bad idea. Something time sensitive will pressure me to make a decision one way or another, for anything else procrastination will be the decision itself. Holding off when I'm procrastinating about something has avoided numerous purchases that we didn't really want or need, and I've avoided starting projects that I hadn't thought through far enough.

It can be really useful to procrastinate in order to work up to something mentally challenging or to recognize in your procrastination a sense of hesitation. Or it may just be a beautiful day, a perfect opportunity to delay your To Do List and live for the moment.

I won't even tell you how long I procrastinated on writing this blog post.

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