We seem to live (and I cannot stress enough the word “seem”) in the Golden Age of productivity, both in our personal and professional lives. Just a quick scroll on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and our screens are filled with the many achievements of our friends: great jobs (#ilovemyjob is one of the most popular hashtags ever), thousands of miles run on Strava, amazing holidays in exotic places (well, maybe not this year), endless books read on Goodreads, progress on Mandarin lessons on Duolingo, quality time spent with the entire family, and so on.
So maybe it’s high time to set clear objectives, make a detailed to-do list, and… procrastinate as you have always done.
In our efficiency- and productivity-obsessed society, procrastination is the ultimate perpetrator. Obviously, this is nothing new, it all goes back to the early days of the American colonies and the Puritan work ethic when the 4th Earl of Chesterfield famously said:
“Know the true value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it. No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination: never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”
This is quite an interesting approach, as it is not at all in line with the old saying: “Good things come to those who wait”. One might argue that good things may come to those who wait but not to those who keep on putting things off, but we’re splitting hairs.
Is procrastination all that bad?
There are obvious advantages of taking things slow, putting unessential tasks off and living a calmer life.
Let’s see some advantages of procrastination. Keep in mind to use it in moderation; otherwise, it might lead to high blood pressure!
It’s quite natural to procrastinate when you have big and important tasks, as they seem intimidating. But while you’re watching Ted Talks (by the way, there is an interesting one about the mind of master procrastinators), instead of going through those Excel spreadsheets, in the back of your mind, things do happen.
By correlating things that you are supposed to be doing with those that you are doing, you can find novel approaches and new solutions. In other words, you become more creative.
I’m not saying that putting things off is the solution to become more creative. I’m saying that nothing is useless, if you know how to connect the dots. The solution to a problem might sometimes hide in unexpected places. Who knows, maybe in a Ted Talk you are not supposed to be watching.
Back to basics
Some people tend to create tasks and feel happy once they have managed to check most of the tasks as “done”. To others, never-ending lists may be a source of anxiety and stress. Hence, the tendency to procrastinate. You put the list aside altogether, which is not the healthiest thing to do.
A more manageable way to tackle daily tasks both at work and at home is to put on the list only the important things. You know you’ll pay the bills and you’ll send a reply to those e-mails quietly waiting in your inbox. Declutter your list, and keep only the essential tasks. Meanwhile, you can set a recurrent payment on your bank account and forget about paying those bills.
Less is more
Creativity requires a certain amount of time. It’s quite difficult to “think outside the box” when you struggle to meet endless deadlines popping from your calendar. It’s difficult to think altogether.
Keep in mind that show thinking leads to better decision making. There is an entire book about it, written by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel prize winner and one of the most influential economists in the world.
By focusing on the essential tasks and putting off the non-essential ones, we might actually achieve more. However, without strong prioritization skills, it’s not easy to know what to procrastinate (and when).
I do not argue that we should do nothing. What I argue is that we should definitely stop trying to do everything.
We should understand the value of time and what it might bring us if we stop worrying about “wasting” it and start living our lives as explorers of knowledge, not as mere task managers. If procrastination can help us explore more and think more deeply about the things we have to do, then it’s a small price to pay.
As long as we use it in moderation. As Oscar Wilde aptly put it: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”.