You’re watching TV at 9:45 on a Sunday night and suddenly the alarm goes off! Not the one in your house – the one in your brain. Maybe something in a commercial reminds you, but for whatever reason you realize you’re supposed to have that report finished so you can present it at the Monday morning meeting.
OMG! You have no choice but to start…as soon as your show is over. The last 15 minutes are practically ruined by the feeling of dread in your stomach, but like the champion you are, you focus on the show and get to the end without letting your mind wander off into the details of that report. Or at least that’s what you think.
Ok, so maybe you’re a procrastinator. Guilty as charged. The good news is that procrastination can provide some benefits; such as clarity, creativity, and boldness. As an added advantage, your mind may have been hard at work on your behalf ever since you received your assignment.
Let’s go back to the moment when you realized there’s something you have to do. That’s your subconscious bringing the task up to the conscious level. All week long, however, that subconscious of yours has noticed a few things, in the same way you suddenly start noticing how many cars are on the road like the one you just bought. Once you connect to a subject you start seeing connections to it everywhere.
All of these things you’ve seen and done have been food for the thoughts you’ve had about your task. When you finally get the nudge to sit down and do it, you might think you’re starting from square one. In fact, your brain is sorting through the ideas you’ve already gathered.
Once you begin your report, your mind enters a desperate stage of creativity with one sole purpose – to knock out this task and get to bed. Every other moment throughout the preceding week, your mind had other things to think about. Not now, though. Now it’s all about the report and nothing but the report. Your procrastination created a window of cleared time for your brain to devote all of its capacity to this one job. We can make the argument that this type of focus is better than knocking out the report while you check email and take phone calls as part of your regular workday, because you’re less likely to make a mistake due to inattention.
The lack of time and resources pumps adrenalin into your brain and forces you into a creative mode that only an eleventh hour activity can incite. Desperation fuels your thought processes as thoroughly as if you were in fight-or-flight mode. Time for some super-human effort!
Your best asset at this point is the fact that there’s also no time for second-guessing. How often have you wished you’d stayed with your first instinct? Now that you’ve time-wasted yourself into a corner, it’s just you and the desperate ideas that pop into your hyper-activated brain. No time to debate the consequences – just go with it!
The best surprise is that with focus and clarity comes speed. You finish that hour-long task in 20 minutes and still have time to catch the rest of the news before heading off to bed.
Much has been written in recent years about Active Procrastination. In this scenario you waste your entire week performing often undesirable tasks that you feel are less deplorable than, say, writing a report. By engaging in active procrastination, you finally get around to painting the back bedroom, writing thank you notes for last year’s Christmas presents, and weeding the flowerbeds for the first time in…ever.
Author John Perry contends in his book, The Art of Procrastination, that it’s possible to use active procrastination to your advantage. Consider that if you regularly include in your list of daily goals a few that you would normally find distasteful, but then top the list with a truly unwanted task, every other task seems more attractive by comparison.
The bottom line with procrastination is that while everyone agrees excessively putting off your work can be unhealthy, not getting a rabid start on tasks allows you to ferment your ideas, avoid working on tasks that either get cancelled or resolve themselves, and for extreme overachievers, you can return your psyche to a more natural rhythm of life.
So don’t put off putting things off. Just be ready for some serious brainstorming when the eleventh hour inevitably arrives.