Procrastination gets a bad rap.
Sure, it has its faults, but when we take a closer look, it's not so black and white.
Here are four reasons why procrastination isn't always all bad.
1. Procrastinating one task can motivate us to complete another.
Perhaps you can relate to this experience: You have something you are avoiding. You will do anything to not do That Thing!
Yes...even things that you were previously procrastinating doing!
Example: You really need to clean out that garage. I mean, really.
You haven't even opened some of those boxes in ten years. Do you really need those mismatched dishes? Those strings of old broken Christmas lights? Five dozen issues of National Geographic for that collage you are sure you will start one day?
It feels like such a daunting project. You can't bring yourself to even begin. Then one day...
You have something you really, really don't want to do. Maybe it's an uncomfortable phone call where you need to confront someone who hurt you. Or a project for work that has you stumped. Or your taxes.
You've been putting it off for a while. You tell yourself it has to get done.
Suddenly, finally you are hit with an almost inexplicable burst of motivation...to clean out the garage!
Your desire to procrastinate doing one unappealing thing was the key to unlocking the motivation to tackle something else you had been putting off.*
Sure, that new thing you're avoiding still needs to get done, but in the meantime you made progress on something else that needed to happen.
Bonus: Oftentimes accomplishing that other thing can free up or move energy and get us unstuck, allowing us to feel more at ease or be more productive in other ways.
*In fact this post may have been completed in this very way.
2. Procrastination now can beget productivity later.
If you have been playing the procrastination game for years (maybe your whole life), but you are also a relatively or even exceedingly successful adult, it's possible that procrastination may have even helped you get where you are today.
Disclaimer: this is not true for everyone. This applies to people who are sometimes referred to as "active procrastinators" as opposed to "passive procrastinators." Active procrastinators find the shortened window of time and increased pressure of an approaching deadline to be a motivator. When time is is scarce, this lights a fire under their (our) butts and they sometimes do some of their best work. They always* meet their deadlines and the procrastination isn't really a problem.**
*99.9% of the time.
**One problem can be if we are plagued by guilt, anxiety, or self-judgment during the procrastination phase. That can cause a lot of stress which is bad for our physical and mental health.
Perhaps a perspectives shift can help:
Instead of: "Ugh, I'm procrastinating. I always do this. I should really just get started on this [ ] already. I'm so lazy. I'm not going to have time."
Try: "Over the years I've learned that I do some of my best work when I have a bit of time pressure. I always finish things on time, even if I have to work harder close to the deadline. I like the rush that comes with knowing I only have a limited window to get something done."
The latter point of view is more self-compassionate, which means less stress and guilt. Also, freeing yourself from those self-critical thoughts means time and energy to do other things. What if you could simply trust that when it's time to start working on x, you will naturally start doing that, but for now, how about letting yourself enjoy a, b, c, f, or q?
Relax. When it's time to get down to business, you will. You always do.
3. Procrastination can be wise (or at least fortuitous).
Sometimes I like to think of procrastination as my wise self whispering "not yet."
Now that might seem a little too "woo woo" for some of you. And to be honest, sometimes it might be a convenient story I tell myself to validate my procrastination.
But other times...it really does seem like "something" is telling me to wait and it ends up being the right decision, for reasons that I could not have anticipated.
Even if it is too "woo woo" for you to consider that we are getting a "message" from somewhere, there is one thing that is objectively true: Sometimes it ends up having been better that you didn't act right away.
Sometimes circumstances unfold in a way that would not have been possible had you done the thing you were "supposed to do" right away.
-Someone has an opportunity to come to a realization on their own.
-The situation changes in a way that would have rendered your previous action a waste of time.
-You need to make a decision and the time and space allows you to arrive at a new, wiser, truer perspective--one that would not have been allowed to happen if you pushed through the procrastination.
4. Procrastination can reveal what really matters to you.
We often procrastinate because something is difficult, or boring, or scary, or because we're afraid to fail.
But sometimes it's because that thing we're not doing just isn't that important to us.
Procrastination can be a window into our values and priorities. If you find yourself repeatedly putting off the same thing, why not ask: Does this really matter to me? And if not, can I let it go?
But get your taxes done, people. For real.
fara tucker, lcsw
therapist and teacher in Portland, Oregon