Procrastination – is it Ever a Positive Thing?

by | 24 May 2023

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In the busy and ever-changing world of financial services, we’re often faced with what seems to be too many competing priorities. If you are anything like me, you may find yourself procrastinating, promptly followed by feelings of guilt for lack of progress on particular tasks. But it got me thinking, are there ANY positive sides to procrastination?

Procrastination is often seen as a negative habit that hinders productivity, but is it as bad as we’ve been conditioned to believe.

What drives procrastination?

In a TED talk from Tim Urban, it is revealed that 88% of the workforce admits to procrastinating at least one hour daily. But Tim adds that procrastination is not just about laziness or lack of willpower—it’s a complex issue rooted in our brain’s reward systems and fear of failure.

Interestingly, procrastination is actually quite irrational; it’s a behaviour we know generally brings negative consequences, yet even as intelligent beings, we seem unable to kick the habit. But it may be comforting to know we aren’t the only ones; even pigeons have been found to procrastinate!

So why can’t we stop procrastinating, even on important tasks? Research defines the act of procrastination as ‘present bias’, where we consider a trade-off between two future moments to give more importance to the one which happens sooner. Psychologically speaking, we perceive an event’s impact or the reward’s value as dampened if it is further away in the future.

There may also be an element of rebellion. Procrastinating sees us rebelling against structures, and I would like to say that I could relate to this when I was a student, and now I can see the teenagers in my life doing it too!

Is there any way to make procrastination more helpful than harmful?

The term ‘active procrastination’ might sound a bit incongruous. Still, studies have shown that active procrastinators (those who choose to avoid particular tasks by doing other tasks first) manage to get things done quite quickly.

However, it is important to distinguish this from passive procrastination (doing nothing to avoid tasks altogether). Take Parkinson’s Law, for example; it dictates that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. This means you take longer than necessary to complete a task, or procrastinate and complete the task right before the due date – both of which can result in poor outcomes.

But, what are the benefits of active procrastination?

1. Enhanced creativity

Procrastination can boost creativity by allowing us to explore new ideas and possibilities. Delaying the task enables our minds to wander and develop fresh ideas. Procrastination can sometimes give our brain a break from the usual routine and allow it to rest, recharge, and explore new perspectives.

2. Better decision-making

Have you ever procrastinated purely for the fact you want a bit more time to mull things over? In this instance, procrastinating may provide extra time to process difficult emotions etc. or distil complex scenarios. By taking the time to gather more data, we can make better-informed decisions and also learn the ability to prioritise, which can lead to more positive outcomes both personally and professionally.

3. Improved problem-solving skills

The high-pressure nature of financial services can sometimes see us lacking time to delve into tasks, weigh up all the options and create the most effective solutions; instead, it’s not uncommon to revert to the easiest solution instead of the most effective. However, when we delay a task, we may start to think about it subconsciously, allowing our brains to work on the problem in the background. This can lead to better insight and comprehension of the issue at hand, which in turn helps us to solve problems quicker and more effectively.

4. Increased motivation

Looking for a bit of motivation? Sometimes, delaying a task slightly can motivate us to work harder and faster. This can be especially true if we have a deadline approaching. The pressure of a looming deadline can help us focus our attention and energy, leading to increased productivity.

5. More self-awareness

Procrastination can also increase our self-awareness by giving us time to identify our underlying fears, anxieties, and concerns. By understanding these underlying issues, we can work to address them and overcome them, leading to greater personal growth and development.

The caveat of procrastination is that it should be used as a conscious strategy and in moderation. And remember, it doesn’t work for everyone. Sometimes doing it now rather than later is the best course of action.

The dangers of procrastination include missed deadlines, high levels of inefficiency and increased stress, so striking a balance is critical.

Here are some quick tips to get tasks ticked off your list:

• Break tasks into small manageable steps (e.g., into sub-tasks that you can easily complete).
• Make tasks more enjoyable (e.g., listening to music while doing them).
• Removing potential distractions like phones or television or other people
• Set specific deadlines (e.g., by deciding that you’ll complete a particular task by noon tomorrow and exactly how long it should take you and when you will start).
• Plan how you’ll handle obstacles (e.g., by deciding that if X happens, you’ll do Y).
• Increase your motivation and energy (e.g., take small breaks and give yourself a reward when a task is completed)
• Create a positive environment (e.g., a clean desk, fun mood board, plants, sunlight, and fresh air).
• Use time-management techniques, such as alternating between work and rest or switching tasks every so often to stay focused.

Try implementing some of these strategies and see how you go!

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