The upside of procrastination (a familiar friend)

Procrastination has a bad reputation.

It’s very familiar to all of us.

More often than not, it leads to nothing but anxiety, disappointment, and frustration, and shame.

Almost everyone thinks it’s entirely negative, but there are times when procrastination can work in your favor.

You don’t have to be anxious, disappointed and stressed all the time when you put things off, especially when you are a creative professional or need time to think through your work and generate better ideas.

When you have urgent things to take care of, you are more likely to push other tasks down the list of things to do in the day or week.

Procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing.

Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things. You are not necessarily being lazier careless if you want to complete your work sometime later.

According to Forbes, procrastinating just a bit here and there can help you prioritize what things need to be completed first, rather than diving straight in without any rhyme or reason.

On the flip side, when you need time for brainstorming, strategic thinking, due diligence, and research, procrastination won’t do you any good.

Active and passive procrastinators

Active procrastinators who postpone work for later are mostly in control of their time, are better managers of their time and use it purposefully without worrying too much about missing deadlines.

They deliberately delay tasks and feel challenged by approaching deadlines.

They are comfortable with fear.

And a little bit of panic or threat is not an issue.

Active procrastinators will always deliver.

They are better at planning but not so good at getting stuff done early when they have lots of time.

They work better under pressure though.

Research by Chu and Choi in 2005 found that active procrastinators were not paralyzed by worry. They had lower stress levels, exhibited less avoidant tendencies, and had healthier self-efficacy.

You could argue that, it’s their way of justifying putting things off.

This doesn’t apply to passive procrastinators who easily get anxious and can’t master the courage to concentrate and get stuff done because they are constantly thinking of running out of time.

If you know yourself well enough, you can better plan and do tasks without the anxiety that comes with deadlines.

Christoph Niemann, an illustrator said this about deadlines in a 99U interview: “In advertising, and also editorial, when people have 2 days, the briefing is much better, and the discussion is much better. It’s not that people just sign off on anything because they’re in a hurry. They’re just really looking at what they have, and trying to make the best product, and get it done.”

The brain benefits of procrastination

Research by psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik in 1927, found that you can have a better memory for incomplete tasks than for complete ones.

Known as the Zeigarnik effect, Bluma proved that task left unfinished for a period of time helps your ability to retain and recall information.

The results suggested that a desire to complete a task can cause it to be retained in a person’s memory until it has been completed.

Since Zeigarnik’s publication, a lot of other studies were carried out to confirm and replicate her findings.

In 1963, British Psychologist John Baddeley developed the Working Memory Model with Graham Hitch.

In an experiment, participants were asked to solve a set of anagrams, each within a set time frame.

Those who were unable to solve the anagrams in time were given the solutions. And he found out that those who couldn’t complete in time were more likely to recall the solutions than those that they had completed in time.

Adam Grants, professor at the Wharton Business School in Pennsylvania and Author of Originals says: “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.”

When it procrastination a smart choice?

Art is never finished, only abandoned.” — Leonardo da Vinci

Everything left undone is always still very much on your mind most of the time. You get to think about it more often than tasks you have completed. This encourages you to think about new ways to improve or do it better.

Adrienne Branson of Canva says: “Unfinished work is hard for your mind to let go of — in a good way. Your mind keeps churning, considering other options, creative solutions to the problem. Ever had a project that you just couldn’t stop talking, thinking, or dreaming about? This is how you make that happen.”

The procrastination thought process works best for people who are working on innovative projects and need creative ideas for solve pending problems.

John Perry, author of The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging, and Postponing, says, “If you go back through history of human culture, and take away every invention that was made by someone who was supposed to be doing something else, I’m willing to bet there wouldn’t be a lot left.”

Innovators and creative professionals use procrastination to their benefit more often than everyone else.

Leonardo Da Vinci was a famous procrastinator. He finished the Mona Lisa in 1517 despite having started it in 1503.

In a discussion with Katie Couric of the NBC Today Show about how he writes and why he procrastinates, Aaron Sorkin, the creator of the television series “The West Wing” said: “You call it procrastination, I call it thinking.”

Procrastination can help with creativity to some extend if used well. The time you spend to process your tasks and projects can help you come up with amazing solutions.

Procrastination allows your mind to process. Even when you’re not consciously thinking about what’s on your creative do-to list, your subconscious is.

This may lead to an innovative or creative solution to the issue, task, project, errand or chore you’ve put off doing.

As long as you can deliver on time, it’s okay to delay creative tasks and make time to think about possible solutions and new ideas.

Most creative projects require moments of thinking. And sometimes you can ignore your natural need to finish early to come up with brilliant ideas.

When procrastination is a problem

Procrastination is not always a smart choice.

Your work and career can suffer if you don’t manage it well.

You probably won’t benefit from procrastination if you have to deliver on tasks at the office and have strict deadlines to meet.

Steve McClatchy, president of Alleer Training & Consulting and the author of the New York Times bestseller Decide explains:

“When quality matters, then procrastination is not a smart choice. When you have to do a high-priority task or produce high-quality work, or it’s the first time you have ever done a task, then waiting until the last minute to do it precludes your ability to control the quality output of the task making procrastination a poor decision.

If you are delivering a big presentation, submitting a large proposal, hiring a key executive, or compiling a major report, putting yourself under the pressure that comes with procrastination will do more harm than good.”

If you are going to procrastinate, you may as well make the most of it.

But when procrastination affects your level of productivity more than usual, you know you have a problem and should find ways to beat it instead of trying to use it to your advantage.

Before you go …

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This article first appeared on Medium.