By Steve McClatchy
Are comfortable with fear? Do you like to have a little bit of panic or threat to your survival built into each day?
Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, this is what we do to ourselves when we procrastinate, a behaviour we seem to repeat frequently even though it causes the unpleasant feelings of fear, pressure, and discomfort. Why do we do this to ourselves? What about it is so effective that we are compelled to repeat this seemingly self-defeating behavior?
You’ve been taught that procrastination is bad—it means you’re lazy, careless, disorganized, or unprofessional. But you can’t help yourself. You just don’t want to take the time to do something until the deadline is coming fast. There must be something you are getting out of it, that has been propelling this habit despite its bad reputation.
Here are the five benefits of procrastination that are just too good to do without:
1. IT GIVES US AN ENERGY BOOST
We typically procrastinate on tasks we don’t like or that we know are difficult or tedious. We have low energy to do these tasks, and fear of a looming deadline releases adrenaline which is an energy source. Procrastination is using fear as a motivator. As a deadline approaches, we fear the consequences of not getting it done on time. That fear releases adrenaline, a natural pain killer, and feeling less pain makes doing difficult or less desirable tasks easier. Energy is the strongest benefit of procrastination.
2. WAITING UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE FORCES US TO FOCUS.
Waiting until the last possible time to do a task keeps us laser-focused on the task while we are doing it. Because we are rushing to meet a deadline, we are less likely to be distracted. We will not be answering the phone, checking email, clicking on a news headline, or thinking about anything else except finishing the task.
3. LACK OF TIME MAKES US WORK FASTER.
Because we have less time available to complete the task, we get it done faster. This task that you don’t enjoy will be in your life for less time overall because you gave yourself the minimum amount of time to get it finished.
4. PROCRASTINATING MAKES OTHER THINGS SEEM EASIER.
Submitting your expense report or checking inventory for your project is easy compared to that thing you are avoiding. This lets you get all the other little things off your to-do list painlessly since you are happy to avoid doing the one thing you are procrastinating over.
5. IT FORCES YOU TO LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS.
Sometimes people fear failing at a given task so they wait until the last minute to do it and then the quality of the finished product can be blamed on the deadline if it isn’t up to the highest standards. "If I had more time I could have done better, but this is the best I could do given the deadline."
Using procrastination to your advantage is not a bad strategy for getting the energy you need for routine maintenance tasks or tasks you have mastered but just need motivation to do them. If you have to take out the trash, do a weekly report that you have done many times before, or do anything else where quality doesn’t matter, then procrastination is a way for you to get those tasks done in as little time as possible.
WHEN PROCRASTINATION IS A PROBLEM
It becomes a problem when you approach everything this way regardless of what type of quality is required for the situation. Procrastination puts you under pressure. Pressure and quality have an inverse relationship. When pressure goes up, quality goes down. This is why coaches call a time-out before a player on the opposing team prepares to shoot a foul shot or kick a field goal. The coach is hoping the player will choke under pressure. Pressure makes concentration difficult.
You can only perform at your best under pressure when you have repeated a task so many times that no amount of pressure can affect its outcome. This is why obsessive practice is the best preparation for having to perform under pressure. Procrastination causes stress and urgency to increase, adversely affecting your chances of producing high-quality work. It also drains you of energy after the adrenaline is gone.
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. In situations like these, you need time for brainstorming, strategic thinking, due diligence, and research. This requires planning ahead and blocking time on your calendar in order to avoid the procrastination cycle.
Chronic procrastinators live by this pattern of decision-making. They are only motivated by deadlines, which means they never get to the things that don’t have deadlines, like goals and improvements. Goals don’t have deadlines. There are no consequences for not pursuing goals or improving processes. Energy to pursue improvement has to come from desire instead of fear, endorphins instead of adrenaline. Endorphins come from a sense of accomplishment, making things better than they were before. These two sources, adrenaline and endorphins, give us the energy we need to do what we do. If we use them both appropriately we can finish our tasks and produce the quality we desire.
So go ahead and procrastinate over the maintenance tasks you have to do in order to avoid consequences, but when the higher-priority projects come, give them the attention they deserve by planning ahead, gaining endorphins as you make progress toward the finished product, and associating yourself with high-quality work where it counts.
Steve McClatchy is the president of Alleer Training & Consulting and the author of theNew York Times bestseller Decide: Work Smarter, Reduce Your Stress And Lead by Example. Steve provides keynotes and workshops on the topics of consultative selling, new business development, leadership, and time management.