Procrastinate your way to success!

Sounds like a book title doesn’t it?  Actually today’s blog post idea does come from a book.  It’s called, “Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time” by Rory Vaden.  It’s a fun read and you should pick it up if you have the chance.

Today I’d like to take some time to expound on one of the basic themes of the book and suggest you apply it to make yourself more productive.  However, with that suggestion comes a very strong caveat I’ll go into later.

Why would you want to procrastinate?  Isn’t that the opposite of getting things done, which is the goal of productivity?

Yes and no.

Procrastination, done incorrectly, can result in delays, shoddy work, and a feeling of being out of control.  None of those things is good for productivity or for your self-esteem.

So, why would I want to procrastinate?

Are you one of those people who always does things as soon as you get them?  Do you keep the decks clear?  When you are handed an assignment do you leap to get it finished right away?  Do you know people like that?  Have you ever imagined you would like to become that person?

I did.  It took me a long while to figure out that I was wrong.  Procrastination, in and of itself, is not bad.  Done properly, it can be good.  And, while having clear decks can seem like a great thing, that is NOT the kind of person who becomes truly productive.


By jumping to keep the decks clear every time a new project appears, you drop focus.  To maximize productivity you should focus on the major task you need to get done – even when the new project, “will just take a moment”.  Interruptions cost time.  It can take as long as twenty minutes to regain focus on a complex task.  So, jumping up to clear the decks actually slows down your productivity.

But there’s another more important reason.  Projects can change over time.     The cookies you put together for the bake sale?  They needed to be vegan – somebody forgot to tell you.  Hope you’re hungry because they can’t be used.

Deliverables can be delayed by customers.  “We thought we needed it on Friday, but we don’t really need it until next Friday and there’s no room in the warehouse.”

Projects can be canceled.     The month long project your boss gave you last Monday?  The one that is due in three months?  It’s gone.  They suddenly went with another company.  Those days you spent putting it together – wasted.

There are many ways that the requirements for the thing you leaped to do right away can change before you must deliver it.

Procrastination is a characteristic of successful leaders, businessmen, and entrepreneurs.

But it is a useful procrastination.  And this is where my caveat comes in.

Procrastination works for you when you know how long your project will really take.  If you don’t know a project’s timetable, procrastination is a recipe for failure.

Seems pretty simple.

But, like most rules it can get tough in practice.  For things you do on a routine basis your estimate of how long something should take is probably pretty good.

For example, completing a week long project a week before it is due invites last minute changes that can force you to redo work.  And redoing work is a double loss of productivity.  It becomes tougher with unknown or not often done projects.  Still if you have a good estimate for a projects real length then procrastination is an ally.

The smart, productive way to approach the problem is to:

  1. correctly size the project, based on resources required and time to complete,
  2. determine when it is due to the customer,
  3. determine what a reasonable amount of time would be to allow for interruptions,
  4. using the above three criteria determine the time you should get started.
  5. Check periodically before you start that nothing in the project requirements has changed.

These kinds of issues arise routinely in business situations.  When confronted with a new task, always find out the due date.  Do not accept, “right away” as a date.  “Right away” is another way of saying “I don’t know when it is due.”

If the task is really due very soon, decide if the task has a higher priority than the one you are currently doing.  If it is, then explain immediately that the other project will be delayed.  Often times this will cause a shift in scheduling.  Your boss might decide somebody else should do it.  You might receive additional resources to get both jobs done.  Silence here is the enemy.  Speak up, it is in your best interest and the interest of those who want the project completed.

If the other project has a lower priority you can still inform your boss of the delay.  This shows you were working on something, your resources are allocated and that there will be a cost to shifting them.  Saying nothing can only hurt you.  In most cases your boss should know what you are working on, but the reminder makes sure that an understanding is reached on the delay of the current project.

Finally, if you are unsure how long a project will take or what resources will be required, don’t blindly accept someone else’s estimate.  Simply say, “I’ll need to check my schedule and let you know when that can be done.”  Your time is valuable, don’t let other people spend it for you.

You should never allow invisible “stacking” of projects.  This happens when a boss hands off work to employees without regard for what they are currently doing.  The result is delayed projects, finger pointing and frustration by employees and managers.  For business to be effective, project size, project priority, and project resources must be known and kept in focus.  This can only happen with good communication.  Do not remain silent.

Which brings me back to procrastination…

Not doing a project right away can be beneficial on several fronts.  It can give you time to make sure you understand all the requirements.  It can keep you from having to redo work.  It can keep you from doing unnecessary work.  Finally, it can keep you from being psychologically overwhelmed.

Controlling your time is your most valuable skill.  Procrastination is a tool for controlling your time.

Hone it.


Which brings me to my current project, creating a short free course in productive writing.  My initial estimates are based on other course lectures I have done, but the material seems to be coming together a bit faster than I expected.  So, I’m going to project that it should be ready for initial reviews by the end of this month – barring delays.  That’s an aggressive schedule, but if you are trying to demonstrate productive writing a loose, open schedule seems a bit – counterproductive.

And, if there are no delays, I will open up the course for early registration via email sometime next week.  Looking forward to your feedback.

David Dougher – author, teacher, ballroom dance instructor, computer consultant, game designer, and odd fellow.
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