If you want to know what’s doing in the world of business, it’s not doing anything.
That’s right! Today’s hot topic is procrastination, and not from the point of view of trying to conquer it. The new intelligence on procrastination is all about how to celebrate it.
According to John Tierney of The New York Times, scientists who have been studying the condition we deride as “foot dragging” or “dawdling” are now seeing the benefits of what they call “structured procrastination” (John Perry of Stanford), or “productive procrastination” (Piers Steel of the University of Calgary).
The basic idea is to leverage the time you spend procrastinating to actually get some serious work done. And if you find yourself procrastinating over your ability to procrastinate, the least you can do is appreciate the positive benefits of procrastination.
This is also the message in The Procrastination Boost: Doing Less to Get More Done, an article written by Jenna Goudreau on Forbes.com.
So, why should you not be put off by your tendency to put off your work? For one thing, your failure to get started may be a clue to the fact that the work in question really shouldn’t be started. Ever. Or at least not by you. As Goudreau writes, “Consider why you are avoiding the task like the plague. Is it out of alignment with your skills, personal goals or the goals of the company? Do you have the tools to tackle it properly? Is it just a time-suck with limited pay-off?”
Putting aside the possibility that if you are in the medical profession, the task you are avoiding like the plague may indeed be the plague, in which case may I sincerely suggest that you stop lollygagging and get on with it, the argument makes sense.
Anything less critical than a worldwide outbreak of Ebola could warrant a careful and lengthy analysis. For example, since you have few skills and no goals, there is almost no assignment that will not be “out of alignment” with you. Except, maybe, planning the department’s next outing to the Hotsy-Totsy Club.
Your procrastination can also be a major benefit to your co-workers. The emails you don’t answer proposing projects you have no interest in doing will, eventually, be passed on to someone less picky and more ambitious. If this happens once or twice you can generally count on being considered unresponsive, which is a lot better than actually trying to do the work and showing management you are incompetent.
There is also the energy issue. According to management consultant Carson Tate, “lack of motivation may also signal that your scheduling is off.” In other words, your supervisor is assigning assignments without considering your “energy cycles.” Apparently, “complex tasks that require a lot of mental effort, like writing and analyzing information, need to be completed when your energy is high and your brain is rested.”
Let’s be honest here — your brain may be pickled, but it is never rested. You’re constantly facing complex tasks that require a lot of mental effort, like trying to remember the location of your desk every morning, and every evening, trying to find your car in the company parking lot. So, if your manager sees you sitting for hours in your cube, staring into space, simply explain that you are waiting for a burst of energy that will allow you to plunge into your projects with gusto. (You don’t have to tell her that you’ve been waiting for this burst since 1973.)
If you decide to use your tendency to procrastinate to actually generate some work flow, the experts suggest that “at the top of your to-do list, put a couple of daunting, if not impossible, tasks that are vaguely important (but really aren’t) and seem to have deadlines (but really don’t).” The idea here is that when you put off your top task — saving the earth from colliding with a meteor — you will enthusiastically get to work on some real tasks, lower down on the list, like turning on your computer or tying your shoes.
To use this technique you have to fool yourself, but you’re good at that.
My suggestion for avoiding procrastination is very simple. Don’t accept any assignments at all. If you have no work to do, you never have to worry about procrastination. You’ll always accomplish exactly what you set out to accomplish, which is nothing. And won’t you feel good about yourself then?
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at email@example.com.