Are you someone who always leaves things to the last second? Without realising it, you might have stumbled onto strategic procrastination, a highly effective strategy for personal productivity.
When I was in high school and university I handed every assignment in on time.
Every. Single. One.
*Kelly pauses for applause*
Every. Single. One. was also started and finished the day before it was due. Sometimes even the lunchtime before it was due. It was a high-pressure way to do things and, when mired in that pressure, I always vowed I’d start earlier next time.
I never did, of course.
And for a long time, I saw this as a massive personal failing – one I encountered time and again.
- Why do I always leave my tax until October 31?
- Why am I writing this article on the day it is due?
- Why can’t I get anything done unless I’m under some kind of time pressure to do so?
Then, last year, I came across the term ‘strategic procrastination’. Or, more accurately, ‘strategic delay’. And I realised strategic procrastination is not a major personal failing, it’s actually a highly effective tactic for being more productive.
Why does strategic procrastination work so well for me? It’s because I am super-intentional about it.
Here are two examples:
1. Strategic delay for your inbox
I used to be that person who answered emails as soon as I received them – I loved the little dopamine hit I got every time I was able to get that email out of my inbox and file it away neatly. As we all know, however, this isn’t great for productivity.
Then I shifted to a five-hour-work-day and had to start closing my email program for 1-2 hours at a time to remove distractions. When I did that, something really magical happened! Urgent problems often resolved themselves without any input from me.
I lost count of the number of times I’d open my inbox after an hour and scan through to see an email from someone at 2pm yelling ‘HELP!’, followed by another from the same person at 2.30pm saying ‘Ignore that last email from me – I worked it out!’.
These days, I strategically delay my response to emails, even if my inbox is open. In doing so I save myself hours of time troubleshooting other people’s problems!
2. Strategic delay for your tasks
While it’s great to know that we’re more efficient when under pressure, simply leaving things till the last second and being under pressure every single day is way too stressful.
To reduce that stress and make strategic delay work well when it comes to general task management, you have to actually plan for it.
So let’s say your next Flying Solo column is due on Tuesday 16 August. Instead of thinking on Tuesday 9 August ‘Hmm, maybe I should make a start on that article’, and then not doing it …
And then getting angry at yourself for not starting …
And then repeating that for the next six days …
Do what I do.
Acknowledge the fact that you’re not going to do it until the morning of Tuesday 16 August, then block out the two hours you know you’ll need to write it on Tuesday 16 August.
Not only is this a more efficient way of getting the article written, it also reduces pointless mental chatter and angst thinking about the fact you’ve not started it yet. Plus, you won’t feel stressed when writing the article because you’ve specifically set aside the time to do it.
Why strategic procrastination works
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in recent years it’s this: it’s much easier to work with your natural tendencies instead of trying to turn yourself into something you’re not.
Once I stopped trying to be the person that starts projects weeks before they’re due and instead accommodated my ability to produce good work under pressure, my productivity went through the roof.
And I suspect the same would apply to you 🙂
Do you have a way of doing things that is counter to conventional wisdom but works well for you?