The war on procrastination

There are tons of book, articles, courses, and research about procrastination and how to beat it. The reason why we procrastinate is summarised in the HBR articles How to Beat Procrastination by Caroline Webb.  She says:

The problem is our brains are programmed to procrastinate. In general, we all tend to struggle with tasks that promise future upside in return for efforts we take now. That’s because it’s easier for our brains to process concrete rather than abstract things, and the immediate hassle is very tangible compared with those unknowable, uncertain future benefits. So the short-term effort easily dominates the long-term upside in our minds—an example of something that behavioural scientists call present bias.

When I read this, the following comes to my mind.

Our reaction to procrastination when it happens is most of the time guilt. But we should feel guilty when we do something wrong. If our brains however are programmed this way, then we are not doing something wrong. We are just doing what your brain is telling us to do, at least in its default setting. However when it happens to us, we always react as if procrastinating is a flaw in our character. We associated procrastination with shame, which basically is sort of self hatred.

But why do we regard our brains flawed when they are doing what they are supposed to do? And why do we hate ourself for it and associate the issue with shame? I, like most of people, have been doing this for a lone time. But it doesn’t make sense at all.

It was quite surprising to hear Adam Grant, a famous author and organisational psychologist, say in his TED Talk that original thinkers are actually procrastinator, at least in a moderate way.

It turns out that whereas precrastinators, who are the opposite of procrastinators, get things done early, [moderate] procrastinators leave themselves open to ideas before they get the task done. They process them in their unconscious mind while doing something else, and on the long run end up with better ideas. This is why they are more likely to be more innovative. As Grant summarises it,

Procrastinating is a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue for creativity.

Nothing we have in our body, mind, or soul is without function and purpose. And not everything that appears to be bad or as disadvantage is actually one. Instead of feeling ashamed and flawed, we should try to understand what we have and try to deal with it, or better, use it to our advantage.

And I think what makes originators so great is that they understand themselves and how they work best. As Grant says in his talk,

[…] originals are not that different from the rest of us. They feel fear and doubt. They procrastinate. They have bad ideas. And sometimes, it’s not in spite of those qualities but because of them that they succeed.

Originals are afraid of failing, but they are not afraid of trying. They take advantage of their brain’s tendency to procrastinate by generating more innovative ideas. They have more bad ideas than others because they think more than others.

Therefore, the war on procrastination is a lost one if we try to eliminate it form our lives. We can only win if we make peace with it and use it as an ally to work better, by identifying the situations when it can serve us well, and when it can’t.   

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