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When Procrastination is Helpful: A Look at Some Examples

written by: Marjory Pilley • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 6/29/2011

If you want to clobber someone--or yourself--for unexplained delays in action, make sure the behavior isn't actually beneficial. Maybe the inactivity is for good reason. Learn how to recognize good procrastination and act accordingly.

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    Shhhh...Sometimes a Delay is Good

    Waiting woman After reading an untold number of books and articles and offering numerous tips and techniques for avoiding procrastination, I have a secret to share with you: procrastination is not always a bad thing. In fact, there are benefits to delaying action in certain situations. The determining factor is the root cause for the inactivity. Procrastination can be described as delaying the act of doing something without good reason. But, if there is a compelling underlying reason for the delay, then maybe a more accurate label is needed instead.

    If you are committed to a project, but are easily distracted, have terrible work habits or are just plain lazy and would rather be any place else but at work, then you won't find any support for your behavior here. On the other hand, if you have been labeled a "procrastinator," but feel there is sound justification for no action at all, then I have some tips that will help you. In addition to identifying a more accurate label for your situation, you must also manage the interruption.

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    Good Reasons to Do Nothing at All

    The first step is to correctly identify the real reason you are not acting as expected. Consider past behavior and current circumstances. Talk to a trusted friend or mentor. Step away from a situation briefly to see things in a new light. Regardless of whether the reason is justifiable or not, an important message is communicated by procrastination. The reason tells us something about ourselves and allows us to move forward with a better plan, more productively and with increased self-confidence. This knowledge, in and of itself, is a good thing.

    As a result of your contemplation, you may decide that a period of inactivity--a.k.a. procrastination--is completely necessary. Here are some examples:

    1. Something just doesn't feel right. You know the sensation...there is a knot in your stomach and your legs feel like lead. You know what to do and how to do it, but you have an overwhelming feeling that something unfortunate is about to happen. Your intuition is telling you that perhaps a better solution is needed. Don't ignore this feeling. Take a reasonable period of time to research, discuss and address your concerns.

    2. A period of planned inactivity is required for a creative result. A period of incubation is often required to allow creative juices to flow. The length of time will vary and must be built-in to the project timeline. The result is a better work product. You certainly can't allow this incubation phase to go on forever though.

    3. A "wait and see" strategy is being used to address a problem. This is a risk strategy that should be employed carefully. It should be the result of careful analysis of the problem and consideration of various solutions. It's not a good idea to implement a quick solution without adequate thought (reason number two) and when something just isn't right (reason number three.) Carefully monitoring a problem to see if it will self-correct is an option. You must take responsibility and act...but not recklessly.

    4. You don't have time for the task. This reason requires a review of your priorities. Consider the importance of the task. If you suffer from being unable to say "no" or micro-manage your projects, then the job might be better suited to another team member. Is the task properly matched with your strengths? Maybe the task should be delegated to someone else so you can use your skills more effectively. Waiting until the workload is properly distributed results in fewer mistakes and more job satisfaction.

    5. You work best under pressure. For some people, this may actually be true. For others, it is just an excuse. Did you pull all-nighters to finish term papers? Did you produce your best work? Waiting and relying on an "adrenaline rush" to get to the finish line is a viable strategy for getting the job done...if used sparingly. (Otherwise, this process can be dangerous to your health.) An incubation period, similar to what was described in example number two is in play. In addition, it appears that a shift in thinking may occur when you are, in fact, running on empty or working through the night.

    With your newfound knowledge in hand, talk to your team members and explain what is going on. Keeping the lines of communication open is a critical aspect of workflow management and will keep a project moving forward, even when good "procrastination" occurs.

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    References and Resources

    Reference:

    Image Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/792109

Procrastination Resources and Strategies

Learn to analyze and address procrastination with this series of articles that provides tips and strategies to avoid it, examples of good delays, the connection to creativity and more.
  1. How to "Procrastination Proof" Your Next Project
  2. When Procrastination is Helpful: A Look at Some Examples
  3. Can Procrastination Help Improve Your Creativity?
  4. Procrastination at Work: Quotes that Rally Action and Make You Smile
  5. Anti-Procrastination Tips for Project Managers


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