High-Performance Procrastination


When I was a sophomore in college, I decided to try something I’d never done before: Write my final English 301 paper over the course of several weeks instead of the night before it was due. I was already set to complete the course with an A, but for once in my life, I wanted to avoid the up-all-night chaos that I’d grown accustomed to. Yes, it took a lot of determination to get started three weeks early, actually go to the library every other day, write out my notes on index cards, and leverage the card catalog. Anyone remember those?

But once I set a goal, I rarely fall short. And that one semester, I followed the traditional process of writing a paper. I revised it three times and still turned it in a day early. That paper turned out to be the worst grade I received in college: a big fat C. That was the beginning of my commitment to a life of high-performance procrastination.

I am a self-proclaimed procrastinator. Today is the day, however, that I hope to set the record straight for myself and all the other high-performing procrastinators walking the halls of corporate America. Today I asked the question, “If procrastination is the bad habit we need to overcome, then why do I perform so much better when I procrastinate?”

I began my exploring the scientific and not-so-scientific research available at my fingertips, and I discovered that the dialogue around procrastination runs passionate and deep among thought leaders, students, and everyday people just trying to get their work done.  Wikipedia defines procrastination as “the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of lower priority, or doing something from which one derives enjoyment, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time.” In his book, 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot, Richard Wiseman writes about the why we procrastinate and what we can do about it. According to Wiseman, the reasons we procrastinate range from “being prone to boredom” to “low levels of self-control” to “fear of failure.”

There’s no denying it: Procrastination gets a bad rap. But as one over achieving, successful subscriber, I’d like to suggest that perhaps procrastination does not always stem from low levels of self-control, a fear of failure, or any the other less than positive associations. What if there is a level of high-performing procrastination that derives from a need to think? In our over-scheduled, too busy world of anytime, anywhere email access, it’s become an indulgence to remove oneself from the hustle of the day and allow for natural thought processes to occur.  As Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn CEO, suggests, for those of us accustomed to filling our days with “doing” instead of “thinking,” procrastination becomes an acceptable, even if undesirable, way to take some time to process your next big project.

Was your current project due yesterday or last week? Do you have a project due in 10 minutes, yet you are reading this blog instead of getting your work done? If so, you are probably feeling badly about procrastinating and increasing the impending doom of actually getting to work. But, if you are interested in turning your otherwise low return procrastination–watching television, surfing the internet, organizing your pencil box–into high-performance procrastination, here are three suggestions to get you started:

1: Procrastinate with Purpose

If you are finding yourself in procrastination mode, make a strategic decision to complete a non-related task that you wouldn’t have otherwise found time for today. For example, instead of dreading the impending start of annual report presentation by cruising Zappos.com for a new pair of boots, why not be purposeful in your procrastination and agree to tackle 3 to-do list items that would have otherwise gone undone today?

2: Get Moving

Staring at a computer screen hour after hour without making productive progress on your project is torture. Next time you find yourself in this situation, get up and get moving. Go for a walk, clean out a closet or do 100 jumping jacks. When you return to your workspace, you’ll be energized, red-faced, and ready to get back to work.

3: Go on Autopilot

If you are working on a project that requires a big idea that just doesn’t seem to be coming though, set out on autopilot tasks such as washing the dishes, taking a shower, or driving your daily commute. When our physical bodies are engaged in routine tasks, our minds are free to roam. This creates an environment ripe for your next ah-ha moment.

So the next time I’m tempted to apologize for my standard mode of operation, I’m going to think again. I’m going to own my high-performing procrastination with my head held high.