Why Procrastination isn’t a bad thing (…and the science doesn’t lie)

Procrastinator at work

This New Year’s day we’re setting the record straight. If your motivation style is to procrastinate and you still hit the deadline FANTASTIC. There’s nothing wrong with you at all. In fact, right now we’d like you to go to your bookcase and throw out all those self-help books that tell you otherwise. You’re probably used to reading headlines such as “Do you SUFFER from procrastination?”, “How to CURE Procrastination…” or “RID yourself of procrastination habits once and for all”. For years scientists have made assumptions when researching procrastination. Firstly, that procrastination will add to your stress levels. Well, yes but the most recent research shows that this can be a good thing and that successful procrastinators use this to motivate themselves to hit that deadline. 

The two types of procrastination.

At this point, we need to be clear. that there are two types of procrastination. Only one of these is a good. There are successful procrastinators and unsuccessful procrastinators and the distinction between the two has nothing to do with how long you manage to put off starting the task! A successful procrastinator is one who meets the deadline. It’s that simple. If you repeatedly fail to meet deadlines in your personal or professional life then this is harming you. Scientific research has not made a distinction between whether the procrastinator succeeds, or whether the procrastination is intense and sabotages success. As a result, many of the things we think we know about procrastination may not always be applicable. In short, there is an error in design which has tainted our understanding.

The work of psychologist Dr Mary Lamia has begun to recognise your strengths!

You’re not lazy at all.

No sir – you are working on the task at hand all be it at a subconscious level. As a successful procrastinator, you’re waiting for your stress levels to hit that optimum peek before you begin the serious task of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboards! In fact, you probably feel if you started work too soon you would be producing low-quality material not reflective of your skill set. Some of you will not be able to start work at all. To be crystal clear, you are not lazy – this is your motivational style. You need the rising stress levels to fire your cylinders and propel you to action. If this rise in intense emotions concerns you, reframe it by seeing it as an intense energy surge coming to you to enable you to complete the task.

Understanding task-driven people.

First things first, just because someone meets a deadline before you does not mean their work is of a higher quality than yours. We’ve all worked with individuals who submit work and then email a modified version to us a week later. Eventually, we lose track of what version we should be on and whether the version we’re looking at is the final one! This is a dead give away that this person is a task-driven individual. For task-driven people, getting the task done is what motivates them. They need to remove the job from their to-do-list. They simply cannot relax until this is done. As a procrastination driven individual, you will be a complete enigma to them. Your behaviour will stress them out completely. If you’re in a relationship with someone who holds a different motivational style – ask them to read this article it could start a healthy discussion!

Forging a friendship with anxiety.

As a procrastinator, you’ll be familiar with the rising levels of anxiety that accompany your delaying tactics. The emotion of anxiety is a blended one and it could be mixed with a number of other emotions. For us, the important ones for us today are excitement and fear. Why? Because the biological reactions of our body to both these emotions are exactly the same. Fritz Perls, the acclaimed psychologist, describes fear as “excitement without breath” because our physiological reactions to these two emotions are basically the same; dry mouth, fluttering stomach, an increased heart rate, and sweaty palms.  Here’s the thing – your emotions and your thoughts rise in your conscious mind at exactly the same time. So next time you feel these symptoms you can choose to label the emotion as either fear or excitement.

Labelling anxiety for success.

If you choose to label the emotion as fear it will have a crippling effect on your motivation. Labelling the emotion as excitement will galvanise you towards success. But, don’t take my word for it. Next time you feel the anxiety levels rising – give it a go! You’ll find yourself driven to the task at hand and using the time pressure anxiety to enter a state of flow. This tip will work for you when you experience anxiety whether your motivational style is driven by procrastination or by task completion!

So fellow procrastinators, let’s embrace our motivational style! Throw off the shackles of outdated scientific thinking, work on the task subconsciously for as long as the rising anxiety levels tell us it’s safe and press submit at the 24th hour knowing the work is completed to the best of our ability and we’ve met the deadline.

You might also be interested in our blog on blending the science of happiness with business goal setting

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