When procrastination is justified

Good and Bad Procrastination:

"There are three variants of procrastination, depending on what you do instead of working on something: you could work on (a) nothing, (b) something less important, or (c) something more important. That last type, I'd argue, is good procrastination."

Graham argues that putting off less important things to accomplish your greatest goal is justifiable. In fact, he believes that is how successful people function: they put off mundane errands and concentrate on their greatest issue at hand. How would you classify something as mundane or important? Graham provides the answer in the form of three questions:

  1. What are the most important problems you have now?
  2. Are you working on them?
  3. Why not?

On the other hand, I have a less rigid belief: that procrastination is fine if you know what you are doing. The hard part is knowing if you actually know what you are doing.

Procrastinate: delay or postpone action; put off doing something.

Surprisingly, everyone has something that we have been putting off. You know you have to do it sooner or later but you just do not want to do it. So, sometimes it keeps nagging you at the back of your head; other times you just completely forget about it until it about due.

While that might sound like a bad thing, it might not be that bad. True, you will probably feel the stress if you put off something big until the last minute. But most of the time, no one will even notice the difference if you do it early or late. In fact, I have seen many situations where last minute solutions are on par with those that have been planned carefully from the beginning. For instance, as a teaching assistant, I have seen students put together a final project in less than 48 hours before the deadline. And their work is nothing short of spectacular.

We live in a society that favors productivity. Everyone expects something from you. They want you to reply their e-mail as soon as possible. They want you to give a reply instantly. By giving them your reply as soon as possible, you make their lives easier but you do not necessarily make your life easier.

I guess the most important thing for whatever you are doing (or not doing) is to realize it yourself. For instance, if I am going to laze around, I should be aware that lazing around is something that I really want to do. If I am going to put off doing something, then I make sure that I know that I am putting it off. If you realize that you are putting something off, and it is your choice then you will not feel that nagging feeling in your head. You realize that you are in control. You know exactly when you are going to do it. Even if it is going to be two hours before it is due.

What I am trying to say: procrastinate under controlled situations. Controlled stress is a good motivator for you to succeed. In fact, controlled stress is better than trying to force yourself to do something when you are not ready to do it. Now, when I am ready to do that important errand, everything else less important just gets put off. Of course, this is definitely not good for productivity since you have to put off more errands just to get the current thing done.

So, to iterate on Graham's arguments: there will be times when you definitely will procrastinate. And when you do, realize that no one expects you to do everything. Prioritize the stuff that you need to do, and not be too rigid in doing them. There will be a lot of things that you have to do, but you really do not feel like doing. Procrastination does not mean that you will not do the task at hand, it means that you are merely delaying it. As long as it gets done before it is due, it is fine (most of the time, unless you really care about making an impression on someone).

In a real-time system, it does not really matter if you get the task done five minutes before or one hour before. What is important is that you meet the required deadline. I think that is how it is with real life tasks as well. Some things can be put off since they have an indefinite wait time; they are non-critical tasks. Some things have to be done quickly: the critical tasks.

Now, all you have to do is realize which tasks are critical and which are not. Graham believes that the critical tasks are tasks that will help you leave your mark in society. Instead, I think they are tasks that you will feel good after doing them. If you do all the critical tasks only, then you will never have time to savor the less critical ones. Want to try to do both the critical and non-critical ones and achieve a 100% output? Don't bother, there is a reason that they are called non-critical tasks; because delaying them indefinitely will not kill anyone.

In short, stick with Graham's arguments, but change the priority of stuff around once in a while. As long as critical tasks get done, you are fine.

comments powered by Disqus