Procrastination Can Be Good For You
Procrastination can be good for you. You read that right. Procrastination can actually have benefits. A lot of the time, when we encounter the word “procrastination”, we are overcome with feelings of guilt and shame. That’s because procrastination has long been associated with weak will power, bad time management, and even laziness.
While I will not discount that procrastination can indeed be the result of these and can cause great harm if chronic, I am here to talk about the ways in which procrastination can be healthy and beneficial to your mental health and overall productivity.
The reason we think procrastination is harmful is because we think of someone who needs to submit their final thesis and put all the work off till the last minute. This results in high stress which can contribute to subpar output and possibly, even missing the deadline.
Obviously, putting off something you can do today and putting yourself through so much stress later on is a bad idea. But have you also met people who, like Mozart, can create a well-renowned masterpiece overnight (Boccara)? While there's the seemingly logical notion not to put things off till the last minute, there's also the undeniable existence of a class of people who thrive on chasing deadlines, myself included.
Although most people would agree and say procrastination is bad, the fact that so many of us do it and still thrive poses the question -- is it really so bad? Furthermore, if some of us live great lives despite procrastinating, it raises the question -- are all procrastination equal or are there different kinds of it? If so, which are healthy and which are detrimental to one's productivity and well-being?
Active and Passive Procrastination
In a study conducted by Chu and Choi on the effects of procrastination on attitudes and performance, they categorized participants into two groups, the passive procrastinators and active procrastinators (247).
The basis of this categorization lies in the procrastinators’ reason for deferring important tasks. The passive procrastinators are those who put off work subconsciously as a way of avoiding a task (Chu and Choi 247). These people defer tasks to a later date because doing so now brings them stress or makes them anxious. So, they choose to do more enjoyable things in the present instead of doing the work that would bring them stress or anxiety; ironically, by doing so, they are increasing the anxiety or stress they would feel later on when they finally confront said task. Simply put, these procrastinators tend to prioritize instant gratification.
Meanwhile, active procrastinators are those who choose to defer a task in order to prioritize other matters first while still being able to meet their deadlines later (Chu and Choi 247). Hence, what makes active procrastinators different from passive procrastinators is their conscious selection of which tasks to engage in for the purpose of optimizing their time and effort. Oftentimes, active procrastination is a product of prioritization and planning rather than anxiety or stress.
While active procrastinators can also experience anxiety and stress, what drives their decision is the knowledge that deferring a task will be beneficial or at least not detrimental to the task being deferred.
Photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash
To better understand this, take a teacher for example. She has a paper due to be submitted to a journal that weekend. It’s Friday and her friends are asking her out to spend time with them.
If she chooses to go out with her friends because she does not want to start working on her related literature for her journal article because every time she tries before, it gives her a headache then that can be passive procrastination.
Meanwhile, if she chooses to spend time with her friends knowing that relaxing will prime her for a weekend of work where she can easily finish the tasks necessary and meet the deadline, then she might be an active procrastinator.
From this example, you can see that determining which type of procrastination one engages in lies in the intention which brings us to the possible benefits that procrastination can bring. If procrastination is done deliberately and strategically, then it can be beneficial for the following reasons.
How Procrastination Can Be Good For You
1. Procrastination can allow you to prioritize.
As mentioned earlier, a lot of active procrastinators choose to defer tasks not really because they don’t want to do them, but because they don't deem the tasks urgent enough and there are other tasks that they prioritize more.
When planning what one will be doing for the day, a great technique is to rank tasks in terms of urgency or importance. This allows you to set your priorities early so that the things you value most get done first.
Additionally, when you do the tasks you think are most important at the time, it reframes the way you see your tasks. Doing this, you get to reevaluate whether the tasks you ranked low on your priority list are important at all or can be left undone.
This not only saves you time but also energy because you’re only devoting your efforts to the things that matter most to you.
2. Procrastination can help with creativity.
Stress is a great hurdle for creative thinking. The writer's block is one example of this. You can force yourself to get started and you can have some writing done. But it is hardly your best work because you can’t think outside the box or come up with great ideas when you’re stressed or tired.
A great way to work around this problem is to procrastinate. Put off the task you have to do and engage in unrelated tasks first. These can be tasks that relax you or just a task that’s completely different from what you’re doing. The reason for this is to engage other areas of your brain while letting the overused areas of your brain rest. If you keep performing the same tasks all the time, you’re exhausting parts of your brain responsible for conducting those tasks.
For example, if you’re a composer and all you do every day from morning till night is sit in your studio with your headphones on while creating music, it’s unsurprising that you’ll run out of good music to compose because the parts of your brain responsible for music creation are exhausted. But if you stop listening to music for a while and hit the gym or read some book, then you’ll be activating other areas of your brain. While doing these, you’re relieving your mind from the pressure to create music which gives it the creative freedom it needs to come up with something great.
This is also the logic behind shower thoughts and why some writers keep notepads beside their beds. Ideas come to you when you least expect them. So the next time you feel like you’re in a slump, do something else and get your mind off things. Take a walk, drink some hot cocoa, or play some video games. Then, watch as the ideas flow in!
3. Procrastination can help you relax and improve your mental health.
A huge and often neglected aspect of growth and progress is rest. For a muscle to grow and become stronger, it needs proper nutrition and time to recuperate; when it has these, it will come back stronger than ever. The same thing applies to people. People need proper nutrition and enough time to recuperate. Take these away and you have a recipe for burnout. If people never rest, they’ll be like knives that are never sharpened; with prolonged use, they will become blunt and the quality of their cuts depreciate until they can’t even cut anymore.
There’s a reason you feel terrible when you wake up with only a handful of hours of sleep. With all the work you do in a day, your body and mind need the proper TLC (tender loving care). And no, sleeping in on the weekends is not enough. Even if you rest your body, your mind can be exhausted. As I mentioned earlier, exhaustion does nothing for your creative mind and it can cause you harm in the long run.
Besides, you need your creative mind even in supposedly “non-creative” tasks. Coming up with ideas and solving problems need creativity; you don’t just use your creativity in writing or the arts. So the next time you feel like you feel fine but there seems to be a block in your mind and you can’t think of something, try active procrastination!
Engage in self-loving activities that allow your conscious mind to rest. Personally, I love to play the piano, workout, or knit when I am tired from working. These activities may seem mindless to you; that's the point! They allow me to think with different areas of my brain. If I normally need to engage my language processing and problem-solving faculties, focusing on repetitive movements and mechanical tasks give me the rest I need. Though I also have to concentrate when doing these tasks, their difference from what I normally do lets me take my mind off work. In a way, it’s a form of relaxation that helps me recharge so that when I go back to work, I feel fresh and thinking up new ideas and solutions to problems we face comes a lot easier.
This is also a great way to establish some balance between work and life/ play. A huge factor in everyday satisfaction and having good mental health has to do with rest. In a society that overglorifies productivity and hustling, let us not forget that even the best engines need rest or they can burn out.
4. Procrastination gives you more time to be certain about things.
While it’s tempting to make decisions immediately especially when we think we have all the information we need to make the decision, studies show that deferring decision making to the last possible minute can contribute to a more satisfactory decision.
According to a study on Examining Behavioral Processes in Indecision: Decisional Procrastination and Decision-Making Style, people who score higher in decisional procrastination based on their scale use the time they put off making a decision strategically and systematically which can contribute to higher certainty once the decision is made (Ferrari and Dividio).
Have you ever come to a decision, tell someone about it, and then have them say “sleep on it”?
The wisdom behind this age-old advice lies in the concept of decisional procrastination, a form of active procrastination where one puts off making a decision about a matter to a later time. Engaging in decisional procrastination can help with making more informed decisions by first, allowing your emotions to taper off to avoid making irrational decisions which you might end up regretting later; second, it allows you as much time as you can afford to gather relevant information or possible alternatives before coming up with a decision. Doing so can make your decision more informed and less willy-nilly.
This concept is applicable in any situation where one needs to make a decision. Are you deciding on which topic to write about for that essay? Defer it to the last possible moment and use the time you have procrastinating to think clearly of the pros and cons of every option you have. While doing that, you can engage in other activities too to let your mind flow freely.
Why are you procrastinating?
So the next time you feel guilty for procrastinating, ask yourself. Why are you procrastinating? Are you doing this because you’re avoiding something that distresses you or are you putting off work because you have more important things to do, you’re still thinking of what to do, or you’re resting so you can come back stronger and more productive later?
Also, don’t forget that the tasks you do while procrastinating are not necessarily in vain. When I need to write articles, I often find myself boxing, knitting, or even drawing to get my mind off the task at hand. Sure, the purpose of me doing these is to get my mind off my writing and to get my creative juices flowing, but what about the exercise I put in, the sweater I made, and the portraits I drew? These are products of my procrastination and I would never have done them if I wasn’t trying to get time off writing. They aren’t useless either. I get my daily dose of exercise from boxing, I have a heartwarming gift for my loved one, and I have a new drawing to add to my portfolio!
As they say, time one enjoys "wasting" is not really wasted time. So why should you feel guilty for producing something or getting things done when you’re "supposedly" doing something else? Who even set those standards?
The first steps to becoming a version of yourself are identifying the things you do and understanding the reasons why you do them. Do you want to get better at learning and become more productive? Identify the reasons why you procrastinate and understand yourself and your learning better. That way, coming up with ways to grow and improve yourself becomes a lot easier.
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Boccara, Alice. “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about... Mozart's Don Giovanni.” France Musique, 22 Jan. 2020, www.francemusique.fr/en/everything-you-always-wanted-know-about-mozart-s-don-giovanni-15687.
Chu, Angela Hsin Chun, and Jin Nam Choi. “(PDF) Rethinking Procrastination: Positive Effects of ‘Active’ Procrastination Behavior on Attitudes and Performance.” ResearchGate, The Journal of Social Psychology, July 2005, www.researchgate.net/publication/7783283_Rethinking_Procrastination_Positive_Effects_of_Active_Procrastination_Behavior_on_Attitudes_and_Performance.
Ferrari, Joseph R., and John F. Dovidio. “Examining Behavioral Processes in Indecision: Decisional Procrastination and Decision-Making Style.” Journal of Research in Personality, vol. 34, no. 1, 2000, pp. 127–137., doi:10.1006/jrpe.1999.2247.
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