Procrastinators, rejoice in your hidden superpowers!

Procrastinators, rejoice in your hidden superpowers!

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If you’re in a professional, fast-paced role, you’ve probably spent some time wishing you were a picture of productivity – the type who effortlessly sticks to a schedule after waking up for a 5am run, always ready to churn out work repeatedly at the drop of a hat. It seems that if you don’t do things the traditional way with a steady flow of work completed throughout the day you’re pressured to improve.

But what if your way of doing things is the best way for YOU to do them? Is a trait truly a weakness if it effectively gets things done? One of my favourite examples of this is procrastination. 

I am a procrastinator. I’ve always loathed this habit, certain that it never served me well. Ann has helped me explore this behaviour in more depth, and see its benefits and revelations, rather than just its problems or how to eliminate it. Of course, it’s not always a positive force – but now, I can see some silver linings drawn around my dark procrastination clouds.

– Lauren Ellis, Project Manager in the creative industry. 

The above is a statement from a client after undertaking coaching with Ann at Kinetic Effect. Procrastination is often one of the challenges that many coaching clients are looking to understand and work through. However, in most cases, this is not something that needs to be fixed. Are you a procrastinator? Congratulations. Studies show that you could be likely to make more effective decisions, and you may even be considered a creative visionary by your peers. How? Let’s explore.

Why do we procrastinate?

“I am a procrastinator” is an admission often met with much shame, frustration and regret. Search ‘procrastination’ and you’ll be served “How do I overcome procrastination?”, “Why is procrastination bad for me?” and other such negatively-skewed results. 

We can – and should – look beyond its obvious challenges and trouble-shooting, as we’ll find many more useful and helpful attributes of procrastination and how we don’t always need to ‘fix it’. I’ll explore some of my favourite – and less expected – virtues, below. 

There’s a myriad of reasons and forces that compel us to procrastinate. On (again, with the ‘solving’!) an exhaustive list is offered: 

  • Abstract goals
  • Rewards that are far in the future
  • A disconnect from our future self
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Anxiety
  • Task aversion
  • Perfectionism
  • Fear of evaluation or negative feedback
  • Fear of failure
  • A perceived lack of control
  • ADHD
  • Depression
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of energy
  • Sensation seeking

Tim Urban, a writer and self-proclaimed procrastinator, has provided much candid and existential thinking on the subject of procrastination. (Procrastinators, check out his blog, Wait But Why. You’ll feel seen and consoled!). 

In his popular TED Talk and long-reads on his blog, he refers to the ‘Instant Gratification Monkey’ within all of us: the natural and very human inclination to favour activities that are easy and fun. Mitigating the risks of procrastination essentially relies upon understanding what drives your ‘Monkey’ – a reckoning we must have with ourselves, and an important journey of self-discovery. 

Procrastinators can be creative visionaries

Many experts cite a correlation between procrastination and creativity. Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist, recalls a prompt from one of his students: “She told me her most original ideas came to her after she procrastinated. She got access to a couple of companies, surveyed people on how often they procrastinated, and asked their supervisors to rate their creativity. Procrastinators earned significantly higher creativity scores than pre-crastinators [those with an urge to start a task immediately and finish it as soon as possible] like me”.

Grant proposes that procrastination encourages divergent thinking – and therefore, increased creativity. “Our first ideas, after all, are usually our most conventional. When you procrastinate, you’re more likely to let your mind wander. That gives you a better chance of stumbling onto the unusual and spotting unexpected patterns”. But, there’s a sweet spot here: neither chronic procrastinators nor pre-crastinators are able to generate innovative and creative ideas. 

How to harness this superpower 

Creativity will only manifest when you’re already aware of the problem or task – so, begin mulling over it (or ‘incubating’, discussed below). As Grant asserts in Originals, “be quick to start and slow to finish.”

Procrastinators can really be ‘incubators’ 

It’s only by ‘incubation’ – first defined and explored by Robert Biswas-Diener, a renowned positive psychologist – that you’ll achieve the creativity and innovation observed by Grant, above.

Importantly, Biswas-Diener draws a distinction between ‘procrastinators’ and ‘incubators’, marked by whether or not they’re preparing their minds for the task at hand before they jump into it (what he refers to as the ‘back burner’ mentality).

Procrastinators may complete tasks to a mediocre standard (or, may not complete them at all) as a result of their lack of engagement or inability to work well under pressure. Incubators behave much like a conventional procrastinator, but you have a “clear sense of deadlines, confidence that the work would be complete on time, certainly that the work would be of superior quality and the ability to subconsciously process important ideas while doing other – often recreational – activities”.

“Incubators tend to be bright, creative people with an amazing gift to work hard under pressure. As such, they can be very dependable in work situations that require last-minute changes or tight deadlines”.

How to harness this superpower:

Firstly, determine if you’re an incubator. Use the scale below to answer the following questions: 

4 – Perfectly describes me

3 – Describes me somewhat

2 – Does not really describe me

1 – Does not describe me at all

A. _____ I always get my work completed on time.

B. _____ The quality of my work is superior.

C. _____ It takes a looming deadline to motivate me.

D. _____ When I finally get to work, I feel highly engaged.

E. _____ I surprise myself by moving into action at the last minute.

F. _____ I do my best work under pressure.

If you scored a 20 or higher, you may be an incubator.

Then, if you discover you’re an incubator: 

  • Manage others’ expectations by making them aware of your working style (you can appear to be sitting idly, which can frustrate those working with you). 
  • Feel confident in the knowledge that your tasks will be completed when required. It’s not laziness, it’s your working style – so banish that guilt!
  • Consider building ‘incubation time’ into your schedule.

Procrastinators can be better decision-makers

University of San Diego professor, Frank Partnoy believes that people make the best decisions when they wait until the last possible moment to do so – ultimately, it makes us happier and more successful. He cites an example in responding to emails “if you respond to every email instantaneously you are going to make your life much more difficult”. 

Extolling the virtues of ‘incubating’, he notes “if the email really doesn’t have to be responded to for a week, I simply cut the information out of the email and paste it into my calendar for one week from today. I free up time today that I can spend on something else, and I’ll be unconsciously working on the question asked in the email for a week”.

He notes broader benefits for humankind, too: “if we are going to be able to resolve long-term problems, we need to create new structures where groups of people are given long periods of time without time pressure and can think in a think-tank-like way”.

How to harness this superpower

Partnoy suggests a two-step process in decision-making: 

  • Step 1 is to ask yourself “what is the longest amount of time I can take before doing this? 
  • Step 2 is to delay the response or the decisions until the very last possible moment.

Procrastinators can really ask ‘why?’

Someone once said, “procrastination is your soul rebelling.” This may not always be the case, of course – but when we suspect a rebellion, we must pay attention!

What Urban defines as our ‘Monkey’ leads us to two procrastination scenarios: delaying those tasks with a deadline (which can be contained: you meet the deadline or you don’t), and without a deadline (which can extend outward forever). 

He believes the non-deadline scenario can cause immense suffering for people, “making them feel like a spectator in their own lives”. There’s an existential lesson to be had in this suffering: clearly defining what’s ‘urgent’ and ‘important’, will better help us respond to the question “what matters most to me?”

How to harness this superpower 

In this blog post, Urban suggests creating an Eisenhower Matrix (named after Dwight Eisenhower, who was known for being highly productive; popularised by Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People).

The Eisenhower Matrix

He urges procrastinators to steer clear of Q3, and aim for Q2. He observes that those most susceptible to Q3 are artists and entrepreneurs: “In both of those situations, you’re the boss of your own life, and the important work to do – improving your skills, deepening your network, executing a creative vision – is rarely urgent”.

On a more macro level, hesitation can be an intuition – that something isn’t right, or isn’t right now. Being able to tune into this instinct and giving yourself the time to decide on the best course of action could save you a lot of stress and time in the long run.

So, what does all of this really mean for the procrastinators out there? Your unconventional way of working probably doesn’t need to be ‘fixed’, certainly not in the cases where deadlines are met consistently with a high quality of work to boot. In fact, the more you embrace your style of getting things done, the easier you’ll flow into routines – and jobs – that suit you best. 

Want to discover your strengths and learn more about your working style? Contact Ann to find out how you can receive a free Strengths Profile assessment and debrief.

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