Resourceful Self-Distraction: Is There a “Good” Kind of Procrastination?
“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly — at first.” — Brian Tracy, American motivational speaker and author.
“The greatest conflicts are not between two people, but between one person and himself.” — Garth Brooks, American singer.
Very few people can honestly say they’ve never dragged their heels on a task, or dawdled over a project they should have put more serious effort into. We may not feel proud about it, but we procrastinate anyway. Why? Often, it boils down to one of the common issues: feeling overwhelmed, fearing failure, or disliking the task.
Then too, I’ve known people who dilly-dallied because they feared running out of work too soon. This happens most often in jobs that continue only as long as the work lasts, like construction or temporary positions, though it can happen in any workplace where the worker’s future seems uncertain. Downsizing, right-sizing, and all the other euphemisms we use to fire people have encouraged this mindset in some industries.
My husband was a letter carrier when I first met him. The carriers didn’t go as fast as they were able, because their delivery rate was measured, and if you proved you could deliver more mail than they estimated you could, they just piled more on you, so you had to go faster to keep up. This resulted in more work without more pay and more exhaustion; so obviously, the carriers weren’t as efficient as they could be. Can you blame them? They were measuring and rewarding the wrong things. And do you wonder why the postal service is having such financial trouble?
One fellow came up to me after my keynote and told me he deliberately procrastinated. When I asked why, he said he’d learned from experience that doing his work too quickly just got him more and harder work, which resulted in personal exhaustion and resentment from his co-workers. When he tried to cut back to normal working hours, his bosses treated him like he was slacking off.
So you can see the logic in it sometimes. However, those are the exception, not the rule. Typically, we’re just procrastinating because we don’t feel like doing what we know we should be doing; it’s a simple lack of discipline. Bottom line: procrastination wastes time. It’s no less a timewaster than excessive socializing, personal business, or Internet usage. Unlike those activities, though, procrastination doesn’t always stand out as an obvious productivity drain; so rooting it out mostly comes down to self-policing.
Here’s the reality: sometimes you are going to procrastinate no matter what. You know what you need to do. You don’t feel like it. You know you’re procrastinating, and you’re going to continue to choose to do it anyway—so there Ms. Productivity Pro.
Adjusting Your Course
Soooo…how about doing the next best thing? If you’re going to procrastinate, let’s reframe it and at least get you to try to do something less productive. Instead of a timewaster, I call it Resourceful Self-Distraction, which I consider a lesser form of procrastination. On a scale of 1-5, if the #1 worst thing you could do is play a Sudoku puzzle and the #5 best thing you could do is your top priority of the day, let’s settle on something rated a 3.
How about distracting yourself with one of these resourceful tasks instead?
- Work on making one of the important but non-urgent tasks on your Someday list a reality.
- Clear your email inbox or the top of your desk.
- Transfer your attention to a medium-priority task on today’s list.
- Check in with those to whom you’ve delegated specific tasks but haven’t heard back.
- Knock out a low-priority task such as delivering mail to a colleague, refilling your pop-up note dispenser, or watering your plant.
- Take a brief walk to clear your head, vowing to get to work immediately when you return.
- Clean out a few files.
- Plan out a new project on a whiteboard.
Sneaking in Productivity
Then you’re not TOTALLY procrastinating: you’re at least doing something SORT OF worthwhile, instead of shooting yourself in the foot with complete timewasters. After crossing some of your less important items off your list, you might find it easier to dive into the highest-priority task.
While I’m a big critic of staying busy just to stay busy (since it often doesn’t equate with results) I do have to admit that sometimes, you can use low-value items this way to springboard you into greater accomplishment. Just get moving, and before long, you may find yourself on a roll.