The noble art of Procrastination

Hanging out on Twitter instead of doing the forecasting and budgets for 2016/2017 (I’m @mpawlo by the way)? Updating your Facebook profile instead of doing personal development talks with the staff? Checking in on Foursquare when you should have done your bills? Writing/reading blog posts (errmm…). Chances are you are procrastinating.

Procrastination is an old phenomenon. The word has some Latin origin, namely pro for forward and crastinus for tomorrow. Except for being an old term, this is also a very dangerous thing to entrepreneurs. An act of procrastination is defined in Wikipedia as an act that is counterproductive, needless, and delaying.

It could be a sign of some serious underlying psychological illness, but in lighter cases this is really normal, if still not very useful.

One very common reason for this behavior is a strive for perfection. Actually, I would say this is not a real strive. It is just a good excuse for not doing the stuff you ultimately dread.

There are three main types of procrastinators (source: Psychology Today):

  • arousal types, or thrill-seekers, who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush.
  • avoiders, who may be avoiding fear of failure or even fear of success, but in either case are very concerned with what others think of them; they would rather have others think they lack effort than ability.
  • decisional procrastinators, who cannot make a decision. Not making a decision absolves procrastinators of responsibility for the outcome of events.

Procrastination is really bad for you, even though Mr Paul Graham of Ycombinator thinks there are good and bad versions (I don’t agree at all!). The reason is that it creates stress, reduces productivity and ultimately may lead to failure. Even though you in the latter case will tell yourself that you could have done it, if you just had a clean apartment, done more research, had 14 uninterrupted hours to work on the project, was not ill on Wednesday and so forth. Furthermore, you will destroy your team, your reputation, your friends, your family if you do this a lot.

When I worked at IDG many, many years ago I learned two things that might have been posted on a brick by the elevator or not (I don’t remember anymore): first things first and do it now.

Personally, when the day starts, I try to write down two-three things that I know will annoy me and that I might feel like procrastinating during the day. I do this on paper. No email that might turn me in a different path. Then I start out by doing these things. When they are finished I feel like escaping prison. And it happens every day. This might work for you, or not. It all depends if you are a hobby-procrastinator or a heavy user of it. I am no psychologist, of course, but I have noticed that in the entrepreneurial sector, procrastination is almost turned into an art. Perhaps that could be one reason for actually doing entrepreneurial work — since procrastination is more accepted from the lonely business genius than from an M&A specialist at Ernst&Young.

If you are hard case, don’t give up. Cognitive behavior therapy might help you. And if you do this a lot — you might need help.

Filing that tax return should be done today, not tomorrow. You know it.

Mikael Pawlo, recovering procrastinator