How to Make Procrastination Work for You Posted on 19 Aug 15:09 , 0 comments


Procrastination is a dirty word.

And there is good reason for that.  

I've spent a lot of time analysing the results of our Workforce Productivity Research in order to understand procrastination's impact on productivity.  

The numbers demonstrate a strong correlation between people who admit procrastination impacts on their productivity and other time wasting habits.  

People who say their productivity is strongly impacted by procrastination are:

- 38% more likely to be distracted by the internet;
- 25% more likely to be distracted by social media;
- 12% more likely to struggle with email overload;
- Twice as likely to be impacted by interruptions;
- 31% more likely to have problems focusing at work; and
- Three times as likely to be negatively impacted by messy environments than the average worker.

I worry that the word procrastination often triggers paralysing feelings of guilt, fear and shame.

The question we asked survey respondents was whether procrastination impacts on their productivity.  About 80% of our survey respondents informed us that procrastination has some kind of impact on their productivity.  20% of respondents indicated they were highly impacted by a tendency to put important work off.  

Perhaps not all procrastination is bad.

That’s what Adam Grant, Wharton Professor and Organisational Psychologist teaches in his best selling book, “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.”

He explains that moderate procrastinators are 16 to 28 per cent more likely to be original thinkers than those who jump in and get creative work done straight away. 

Grant believes moderate procrastination encourages divergent thinking.

I believe this idea is best implemented through good triaging and planning habits.   

It's important to note that Grant's definition of "moderate procrastination" has been disputed by some psychologists.  These people argue that what we're actually talking about is "delay".  They believe procrastination must always result in poor outcomes.  I can see where they are coming from and believe it's all about the language we use.

Grant's work is a great opportunity for us to give procrastination a better reputation.

I like the idea of using procrastination as a strategy to help us achieve greater creativity and higher quality outcomes.  

It turns a negative into a positive. If you prefer to think of this idea as "the benefit of deliberate delay" or "managing your energy" please go ahead. 

I like to think of "moderate procrastination" as "letting great ideas marinate."

For instance, it's the articles I've re-written 10+ times that are usually the most popular.  I've taken a lot of time to think them through on long walks.  I haven't "pressed send" until I've been sure I am clear on my subject, and the best way to communicate pac executive's "house view."

The trick is to "delay" or "press pause"on the right things at the right time.

Here's how to make moderate procrastination (aka. delay, aka. pausing, aka. managing your energy) work for you:

1. Triage and plan
Why this works:  You should neither procrastinate on everything, nor action everything straight away without thought.  Triaging allows you to identify which task requires which approach.  

When seeking creative solutions there are times when we need to think laterally and slowly.  Whereas small tasks should be batched and done quickly and with a sense of urgency.  

How to do it:  When you triage new tasks identify the work that can/should be done now, and the work that should be scheduled for action at a later time.  
Set boundaries around reactive work like email, and use a one touch- one decision approach.   

Act with a sense of urgency on anything that can be done quickly. For example, don’t waste your time re-reading over transactional emails multiple times before actioning. 
Schedule time to complete creative and important larger tasks at a time when your thinking is clearest.  For 70% of us that is first thing in the morning.  

Get familiar with your objective and then give yourself time to think. 

Moderate procrastination is only beneficial when we know what is required of us. We can then do the thinking we need prior to execution.

If you plan weekly (as I've been nagging you to do) you have the perfect opportunity to familiarise yourself with big tasks and goals.  You're also more likely to block out the time required to complete them. 

2. Work in intervals

Why this works: We move from a physiological state of high energy and focus to one of low energy and focus in 45 minute to 90 minute cycles. (Everyone is different so experiment a little to figure out your optimal interval time.)

Moderate procrastinators quit on a high, often mid-task to leverage off their high energy state and clear head.  

How to do it:  When you work on large creative projects try attacking the work one bite sized chunk at a time.  

When you've made good progress on a project and you're starting to feel drained stop working on it.  Come back to the task with fresh eyes at a later time.  

This approach encourages a series of small innovative wins verses one hard slog where only average work is produced.

(Pro tip: Write yourself a note each time you "put down" a task so you know where you're at when you "pick it up" again)

3. Don’t just leave everything to the last minute
Why:  If you have to rush to implement a project in one sitting prior to your deadline you are less likely to be creative.  You're also more likely to produce work with errors and miss deadlines.

Moderate procrastination is about making incremental progress, rather than putting everything off until the last minute. 

4. Your attitude matters

Why this is important:  My objective in writing about the concept of moderate procrastination is to help you make incremental habit changes to achieve better results. 

The feelings of guilt, fear and shame that are attached to the word procrastination can have a greater impact on productivity than the behaviour itself.

How to do it:  Understand that it's not just you. Almost everyone procrastinates. Separate identity from behaviour.

Next time you find yourself procrastinating, ask yourself whether it's appropriate to the task?  

If it's a small task that can be done now- just do it.  

If it's a creative task that will benefit from a little inaction then give yourself a break. Forgive yourself.  Put an appointment in your diary to focus on it at a more appropriate time.

Is procrastination impacting on your productivity? We love teaching our clients strategies to deal with the impact of procrastination on personal productivity.

Our April Online Optimising Your Personal Performance Program begins this week and it's not too late to join!