Strategic Procrastination – transforming a time-killing obstacle into a time-saving life hack

Procrastination has a horrible reputation: It’s blamed for the many wasted hours and lack of productivity we all fear and to which we occasionally succumb. This is overly simplistic. Yes, there is “bad” procrastination that paralyses you from doing anything, causes guilt and induces stress down the road. But there is also “good” procrastination. Procrastination that can combat the idea, “work expands so as to fill the time available for it’s completion.” While you may not know that this is referred to as Parkinson’s Law, you all know what I mean.

There are several approaches to counteracting Parkinson’saw. The obvious solution is to schedule only the time you need for each task and maintain focus while you’re completing tasks. This requires a level of disciple and organization that, frankly, I don’t have. But there is another way – Strategic Procrastination. Using this approach, you can limit the time devoted to tasks and use the pressure of a deadline to your advantage.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Pick a deadline on your calendar that requires completion of a task (reviewing a paper, drafting an email, writing a recommendation, you name it).
  2. Estimate the amount of time it will (should) take you to complete the task.
  3. Intentionally delay starting the task until just before the deadline – giving yourself only the amount of time you calculated to complete the task.
  4. Do the task.

So what happened here? You got your task done and did not waste any time – you used the deadline to counter Parkinson’s Law. I use this approach regularly. It works for me because I do not like to, nor am I good at, scheduling my day beyond meetings and conferences. I would never slot in an hour to complete a task and actually stick to it. If you are disciplined and like to schedule your whole day with time for specific tasks, you probably don’t need Strategic Procrastination. But for the rest of us, it’s great!

There are things to consider and pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Accuracy in time estimate. If you underestimate, you won’t finish the task and you will be super stressed out, which is the opposite outcome of what you want to accomplish.
  2. The pressure of a real deadline vs imagined deadlines. Many tasks don’t have deadlines. You can make one but it’s often hard to fool yourself, and you may find this strategy only works with harnessing the pressure of a non-flexible date.
  3. Don’t forget to let your mind wander. Having time for free association is key for creativity. If your whole week is Strategic Procrastination, your mind won’t have time to grow. Use this approach in moderation.
  4. Start slow. If you suddenly put off every task, the Procrastination is no longer Strategic. I recommend one to two tasks per week to start.

With the right mindset, procrastination is not the time-wasting monster we’ve been warned to avoid. It can be re-purposed for good and can be a wonderful addition to your workweek.

Procrastination, you’re welcome.  

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