Is Procrastination the Secret to Productivity?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

How anti-productivity ups your productivity

Productivity is the new #toxicpositivity. Call it #toxicproductivity. We are told to be constantly on-the-go. Wake up at 5 a.m. as all the CEOs do. Work-out every day, train for the next marathon. Bullet journal and plan out every second of your day. Read three books a week. Start a side-hustle. And do all this in addition to maintaining a full-time job, a family, and household chores. No procrastination.

Phew. I’m tired of even writing all of this. Are actual humans really able to do all of this and maintain a semblance of sanity — and God forbid, some happiness?

Somewhere along the way, we have lost the end goal, the destination. Wasn’t the aim to be healthy and happy, and live a fulfilling life?

Maybe it is just me, but if I have to get up at 5 a.m. to ‘journal’ my thoughts, I would be an unhappy trooper. You can bet your life that my thoughts are going to be very non-Zen at that hour of the day. It kind of defeats the purpose of journaling.

The same goes for reading with a number in mind. Reading for me is my form of escapism. I want to savor the words, flesh out the characters in my mind, draw parallels between my lived experiences and the situations in the book, expand the horizons of my thinking. If a chapter or a page or even a paragraph strikes a chord in my heart, I want to pause. I want to re-read it. I want to give the words the love and attention they command. But how does one do it if all that the book represents is another number in one’s #productivitygoals?

So, let this be an ode to anti-productivity. An ode to pausing and smelling the roses, to stopping and staring, to procrastinating.

Why Procrastination is Excellent for Your Productivity

1. It helps you really prioritize

You are always going to have more tasks on your infinite to-do list than you can get done in a day. If you do not procrastinate on some tasks, one of two things will happen.

You will either burn yourself out trying to keep ahead of your tasks (Type-A, calling myself and you guys out with this). Or you will do the easy tasks first, and leave the more difficult ones but which could have been more important to achieve for later. Usually, we as humans like to do the smaller tasks, since thinking of longer-term projects takes focus and a lot of dedicated time — things we sorely lack nowadays. Given a choice between thinking of the plot for my next novel, or answering some emails, I will always choose the latter. The problem is, there will always be more emails.

If you actively procrastinate some tasks, you leave your day more open for some of the more time and focus-intensive tasks, which would otherwise always remain at the bottom of your list.

2. It minimizes the time required to complete tasks

Really. Parkinson’s law tells you that the work expands to fill the time allotted to it. Here’s the original essay in which Parkinson invented this law — it is a humorous read, while you procrastinate other tasks. While this law may not always be true, for tasks like completing assignments or making decisions, if you have a week to do so, it will take a week. But if you have a day, you will probably do as well a job or even better in that one day.

There are three reasons for this:

  • Satisficing vs optimizing: When we have to complete a task within a short time, we will usually do the deed in a way that is satisfactory for the purpose, but not perfect. On the other hand, if we have unlimited time at our disposal, most of us will never come to a point where the result is ‘just right’. While some tasks do require close-to-perfection, they are few and far between. For the remaining tasks, a satisfactory outcome is more than enough.
  • Some people work better under pressure: We know it instinctively. Only when we know there is a deadline can you focus on the task. If that sounds like you, procrastination can help create that pressure.
  • The power of the subconscious — You may have heard that the brain never shuts down. That is true. If you have a big task to complete, procrastinating can give your mind enough time to collect and connect various ideas and pieces of information, making you a lot more efficient when you actually sit down to complete the task.

3. Better decisions

Sometimes, our brains just need some time to examine an idea or a situation in all possible lights, before taking a decision. In his book‘Wait: The Art and Science of Delay’, the author Frank Partnoy has argued that waiting till the last possible moment before taking a decision can lead to better decision making. He quotes a funny anecdote:

Lehman Brothers had arranged for a decision-making class in the fall of 2005 for its senior executives. It brought four dozen executives to the Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue and brought in Malcolm Gladwell, who had just published Blink, a book that speaks to the benefits of making instantaneous decisions and that Gladwell sums up as “a book about those first two seconds.” Lehman’s president Joe Gregory embraced this notion of going with your gut and deciding quickly, and he passed copies of Blink out on the trading floor.

The executives took this class and then hurriedly marched back to their headquarters and proceeded to make the worst snap decisions in the history of financial markets.

He has quoted studies that state that delaying decisions can help in gathering information, thinking it through, and letting your subconscious digest the situation.

So, take a breath, or two. Have that cup of coffee and stare into the distance. Zone out for a couple of hours, mindlessly scrolling. Read that book and then re-read it. Things will get done, but just not right now.

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