If you procrastinate (and most of us do), you’re in good company. Bill Clinton, Leonardo da Vinci, Frank Lloyd Wright, Victor Hugo, Margaret Atwood, Douglas Adams, Naomi Campbell, and Mariah Carey are all known for waiting until the last minute to do things. In fact, Fallingwater, Wright’s architectural masterpiece, was reportedly sketched 30 minutes before the client arrived at his office.
While procrastination is normally associated with negative consequences such as being stressed out or late, Rory Vaden, author of Procrastinate on Purpose, says strategic procrastination is a tool used by the ultra-successful.
"Chronic overachievers suffer from a kind of procrastination called priority dilution," says Vaden. "They became successful by being a massive taskmaster, but as they move up and have more responsibility, their priorities become diluted. They still believe accomplishing more is good, but they allow their attention to shift to urgent tasks and put off significant goals. It’s a case of, ‘What got you here won’t get you there.’"
Procrastinating on purpose, however, allows ultra-performers to solve the priority dilution problem. Instead of accomplishing things on a to-do list, they put each task through a "focus funnel," asking the following questions:
- Can I eliminate it?
- Can I automate it?
- Can I delegate it? If the task cannot be eliminated, automated, or delegated, one final question is posed:
- Can it wait until later?
"If it must be done now, give yourself permission to protect: shut off our email, close the door, turn off your phone, and do the task," says Vaden. "But if it can wait, I challenge people to procrastinate on purpose. Doing something early isn’t creating more time; it’s taking something from tomorrow and bringing it into today. And this opens you up to the risk of unexpected change cost."
WE ALL UNDERSTAND THE RISK OF BEING TOO LATE, BUT IT’S IMPORTANT TO REALIZE THERE IS RISK ATTACHED TO DOING SOMETHING TOO EARLY.
A good example is booking a flight six months in advance, says Vaden: "Even if you have the time to book it early, it makes more sense to wait," he says. "We live in a world of change, and if something happens and you need to reschedule the flight, you’ll have to invest more time and money to make the change later. We all understand the risk of being too late, but it’s important to realize there is risk attached to doing something too early."
Procrastinating on purpose is a strategic advantage because it allows for a fast-moving ever-dynamic world, Vaden says. As you put tasks through the focus funnel, it’s important to understand the distinction between important, urgent, and significant: "Important is how much it matters, urgent is how soon it matters, and significant is how long it matters," he says.
Chronic overachievers live under urgency, falling victim to the latest and loudest. They might have 10 items on their to-do list, and they’ll choose seven that are most likely to get done, believing that they’re operating in efficiency, says Vaden. High achievers—the Richard Bransons and Warren Buffets of the world—focus on significant tasks, investing their time into things that pay dividends later. They know it’s not just about today; they intentionally choose to complete one item, but it’s the one that creates a better tomorrow.
IMPORTANT IS HOW MUCH IT MATTERS, URGENT IS HOW SOON IT MATTERS, AND SIGNIFICANT IS HOW LONG IT MATTERS.
"Success isn’t about volume," says Vaden. "There’s a big difference in waiting to do something you know should do, but don’t feel like doing, and waiting to do something because now is not the optimal time. Waiting because you don’t feel like it is classic procrastination, and it’s a cause of a mediocre life. Waiting because you’re deciding to procrastinate on purpose can be considered a synonym for patience. People who have reached an ultra-high level of success master it subconsciously."