‘I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.’
– Douglas Adams
Procrastination, or the act of putting off or delaying something until a later date, gets a bad rap.
Your teachers in high school lectured you endlessly about the importance of developing “good work habits”, and for the most part, they were right. Ignoring a task completely can reap dire consequences when the time comes to present your accomplishments and you have nothing to show for it. However, putting pressure on yourself to be productive can have the opposite outcome as intended. In fact, sometimes putting off your task until later and doing something else can be a more valuable use of your time! We’ve all experienced it: the dreaded blank white screen or paper. Maybe you have writer’s block, or just aren’t feeling creative. Maybe you’re too occupied with other thoughts and can’t concentrate right now. Maybe the task seems so daunting you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin. We’ve been trained to see these hesitations as obstacles to overcome, when in actuality, sometimes it is better to surrender to your inner slacker.
Don’t force it, dummy.
When you spend too much time trying to force yourself to create, you’re not doing your brain any favours. It’s healthier physically and psychologically to indulge in that downtime when you need it, rather than be constantly pushing yourself to do things that your heart just isn’t in. In other words, if you don’t feel like it, that could be a good indicator that you shouldn’t! Right now, at least.
Put it on the back burner, baby.
Don’t underestimate how much you are actually getting accomplished while you are taking some much deserved time off. From a creative standpoint, some of your best brainstorming is actually being done without your knowledge. You know those “aha!” light bulb moments? A lot of that happens because your subconscious is busy at work organizing facts and making connections. Do some of your best ideas occur to you during your morning run or shower? That “laziness” or downtime is similar to the rest and rejuvenation your brain soaks up during sleep every night (and also during what we like to call “power naps”). Where do you think the expression “sleep on it” came from? Just wait it out, and eventually inspiration will likely strike.
Space: the Final Frontier.
Putting a half-formed idea on your mental backburner gives you time to process and gain perspective that you might otherwise overlook. Avoiding a problem for a little while may give you the distance you need to come back with a fresh outlook and a solution that you never would have come up with before. It’s important to take this time and space when needed, lest you lose sight of what you are actually trying to accomplish. If you stare too close at a painting for too long, your view will be blurry…sometimes you have to take a few steps back in order to see the big picture.
It’s the reason so many ground-breaking creative projects come together at the last minute, and why sometimes your boss will give you the most important and creatively charged task last (much to your displeasure, I’m sure). But there is reasoning behind this, and it makes a lot of sense when you think about it. How often are you given a new task with a generous work back schedule, and promptly lose it under a stack of more urgent or just more interesting papers? Or, the keener of us who start early on a project will often find at the end that much of their work was thrown away. Giving yourself or your team more leeway than is really needed will almost always result in squandered time that expands to fill the amount of time allotted it. On the other hand, if you wait until the last minute to complete a task, you are forced to focus and hone in on the crucial, most important parts of the project. Priorities, priorities! Though the stress may be slightly unpleasant, working under pressure can jolt your mind and body into overdrive, creating a machine of a person that works at peak efficiency.
Take it from an expert in procrastination and laziness herself; it really works! However, take this advice with a grain of salt; constant procrastination is not a sustainable way of living and will eventually catch up with you. When it comes down to day-to-day living, proper planning and good time management are good skills to practice, if you want to reduce a stress-induced hernia from one too many panic fuelled overnighters.