Have you ever procrastinated about writing your speech? Or creating your presentationslides? Or even just practicing your presentation? I know plenty of people who have been there. I have been there as well. I can remember a time that I kept putting off writing my presentation out until the very day of contest. It is not like I could not quickly put one together. I could. I would probably do it in only about an hour or so of writing. But, I kept putting it off. And that was not so good.
In fact, when most of us look at procrastination, we see it as a horrible thing. Steven Pressfield in “The War of Art” calls it “the most toxic force on the planet.” Tim Urban humorously referred to it as the “Instant Gratification Monkey.” The monkey that would rather watch 10,000 YouTube videos on speeches from Steve Jobs to Justin Bieber than actually write a speech. Even the Washington Post published an article claiming that procrastination was a source of “higher stress, more illness and lower grades.” You could say that procrastination is the root of all evil.
But in fact procrastination would not be a “root of all evil” if it was harnessed properly. It can be force of good in your life. The way I see it, there are at least three good things about it that can be said about procrastination.
1. Procrastination is done for an intelligent reason
2. Procrastination signals ambition
3. Procrastination helps you prioritize
Done for an Intelligent Reason
You may think that there is no good reason to procrastination. But, let`s look at this. First simply list up all the things you are procrastinating about. For me, there is:
- Exercise for the day
- Write a speech for an upcoming contest
- Rewrite the homepage text
- Finish the book proposal
For example, I have an app called Gorilla Workout. It gives me a plan on what workout to do. There are videos if I need help on knowing what to do. There is even a reminder feature. It is set for 9pm. But I don`t always do the workout. Why? Because it is a pain in the butt. This feeling tells I am lacking enough motivation. To be honest, other than weighing less than 50 kilograms I am very healthy and energetic. I haven`t even had a cold in a long while. So, I need a better reason to exercise than what I picked at the beginning. Either that or change the setting to an easier set of exercises just to build the habit.
Another example is writing a speech draft. Writing can feel so draining just thinking about it. In fact, writing is not just putting some text on a screen. It is a complex task. This can include generating ideas, doing research, writing the outline, writing a draft, editing the draft, and finally publishing the draft. We get into trouble when we think of it as some indefinite blob with some indefinite short deadline. If you break the process down into manageable bites spaced over time, it becomes easier to handle. In this case, I am usually very clear on the reason. I just need to make at least the first step clear and simple. I do that and it gets easier.
In the end no matter the task, you need to look at procrastination and ask why. There is always a reason. It is usually a good one. It can be that you haven't thought of a clear reason to do so. Or, it could be that you have not decided a simple next step. Or it could be something else. I know it can be scary at times, but if you don`t ask you will be stuck with the guilt and loathing of not doing the thing that you agreed to yourself that you would do. So, look at your procrastination list and ask why are not doing it now.
We often really want to do a good job, it is just that there are times when you feel overwhelmed or not ready or you don't have the confidence. This in facts signals ambition. If you were not ambitious you would not even think about trying the hard thing in the first place. Hard things require trying new things, learning new things, and possibly looking stupid in the process. It is normal to feel procrastination as procrastination is trying to save you from the pain. If you felt differently, you could have taken the easy way. Do a slipshod job and not care. But you didn't.
I will tell you no matter how good you get, no matter how much money you get, no matter how fantastic you job is there will be moments where you will procrastinate. There will be moments where you will hesitate. Where you will not feel ready. That’s ok, because that is all part of the process of becoming a better you. Just move forward.
Helps you prioritize
Procrastination can help you prioritize as well. Since the things we procrastinate about can also be the biggest opportunities for personal growth, make the things you procrastinate about a priority.
Go back and look at your initial list things that you are procrastinating. Which ones have a sense of urgency? Which ones if done would have the biggest impact? The ones that you have been putting off for the longest time may be biggest places for your own growth. So pick the top three. You don't need to all of them. Just face three. The rest can be done when it is their turn.
Write down a bunch specific actions you could do. You do not have to commit yourself to any of them. Just look at the opportunities. In fact there is no reason why you could not delegate some of the work to someone else. That isn't running away, but using the skill of leadership and delegation. What you decide is up to you.
So, in conclusion procrastination is not a terrible weakness. It something that everyone goes through. You can let drag you down or you can make it lift you up. So listen to procrastination. Find out what you are putting off. Ask it the reasons why you are procrastinating. And by doing that you can open more doors for growth than you would imagine.