Procrastination: The Superpower of Highly Successful People
“What would you like to work on next?” my therapist prompted. Procrastination! The word shot out of me without leaving a second for contemplation. “Why Procrastination?” I was taken aback, Did I really have to explain to him that I was the master procrastinator? Apparently so. But my answers didn’t seem to satisfy him; he had more questions! “And is this something you want to change?”
I was exasperated. What planet does he live on? Doesn’t he know that procrastination is the root cause of all failures? Hasn’t he read any of the self-help books or articles on becoming more productive? What a question…. do I want to change it? Of course, I do. Everyone does, right? Wouldn’t we all be millionaires by now if we could only beat the devil that goes by the name of procrastination?
As it turns out, he might have been a lot wiser than I gave him credit for.
During my next session, we created a framework to help me overcome procrastination once and for all. The concept was simple enough: We’d go through all the reasons why I wanted to drop this terrible habit and then imagine the perfect life I would lead once I had become this highly efficient and successful individual. We would assert these images through hypnotherapy.
My subconscious mind would be reprogrammed…. genius, right? Does it work? Possibly. If it wasn’t for the fact that my therapist was right in the first place. I didn’t really want to change.
Here I was in a state of deep trance walking the imaginary road from my life before to after I had beaten procrastination, and just as I was about to reach the destination, the images escaped me. I couldn’t envision it. Not because I couldn’t see myself being efficient and successful. But because deep down I knew that beating procrastination wasn’t the holy grail of achievement.
All the reasons I had given were those of many people much wiser than I. Of course, I believed them. But they don’t know me. And deep down I’ve always had this little seed of doubt: What if procrastination can actually contribute to success and efficiency?
People like Bill Clinton or Leonardo DaVinci are master procrastinators. What if they don’t view it as a character flaw they have to overcome? What if it’s their superpower?
Procrastination dials up the pressure.
People are different. Some work well under pressure and others hate it. I am going to make a wild guess and say that those who absolutely cannot stand pressure aren’t procrastinating too much. If they do, those are the people who genuinely want to try all the different techniques to beat procrastination. And I am sure the methods will work for them. But many people claim that they perform a lot better under pressure.
Personally, I get easily distracted when I have to do a boring task or one that I don’t want to do. I can start with the best intentions and I will surely find a reason to stop halfway through and do something else. That isn’t the case if I do something last minute. Suddenly I have endless energy and focus power.
If you put writing important documents or university essays off until just before the deadline but still get great results, then you don’t have a problem with procrastination. This is not a sign of poor time-management skills. It’s actually quite an impressive estimation of the tasks at hand. You subconsciously knew exactly how much time you needed to complete the task to achieve a good result. And if you tend to be a perfectionist, it might have even stopped you from overengineering or overthinking something.
Procrastination can be more efficient.
One of the reasons I wanted to overcome procrastination is because I thought it would help me to be more efficient. But in some ways, it has actually helped me to be more efficient. That’s for a couple of reasons:
Tasks might disappear.
How many times have you had someone ask you a question or come to you with a problem only to message you a couple of minutes later to say: “Never mind, I found it”. If you didn’t answer straight away and kept doing what you were doing, that’s time saved.
One of my favourite examples is Covid. I am still thankful for all the hours I didn’t spend ordering school lunches 6 months in advance or planning out every little detail of the holiday I never took.
You can group tasks.
Something I am really poor at is responding to messages. I have always admired people who always answer straight away. Or cleaning, I hate doing 5 minutes here and there. I still do the tasks, but I group them. Rather than spending all day context switching, I set aside 30 minutes or one hour to focus on “respond to all messages” or “clean the house” time. Depending on the task, it could be argued that this actually saves time.
What if it’s not delaying but rather preferring a different order?
Like many of my fellow procrastinators, I mostly do it in the mornings. It takes me hours and a lot of coffee to get into the full swing of the day. I have tried morning routines, morning exercise, meditation and they are all great but they haven’t stopped me from procrastinating. But once I have finally picked up speed, I am not stopping. And that is just because I am not a morning person. Period.
Some people are, others aren’t. And why should that be wrong? Who said the only way to be successful is to get up at 5 am to work through the day and then relax? (Almost every self-help guru is probably the answer). I would beg to differ.
Some people prefer to have a lot of work done before they can truly relax; others prefer to start the day relaxed and then get their work done. If we assume that those two different types of people spend an equal amount of time working as they spend relaxing, I very much doubt that one or the other is using their work time more efficiently.
And here is the other thing, people frequently assume that the “relax” time a procrastinator spends while delaying tasks isn’t as enjoyable as the time that you get if you have finished all your tasks. The idea is that only if you have beaten procrastination, can you fully enjoy time off. Frankly, I think that is an assumption made by those that hardly ever procrastinate. The master procrastinators amongst us thoroughly enjoy the time reading or scrolling through the latest baby photos of our nieces and nephews on social media when society tells us we should be doing something else.
Maybe it’s not procrastination but planning.
I’ve spent a few weeks procrastinating writing my article about procrastination. The irony of it. But when I first had the idea, I had nothing but a general idea of what I was going to write. And then life happened, I got distracted, I never even wrote a title. Because I had set out to write about it though, I started to gather thoughts and ideas every day. And then, yesterday, I was sitting in my garden playing a silly game on my phone. I was supposed to study, mind you, but here I was procrastinating and suddenly the thoughts I had gathered over the past weeks all took shape.
By the time I rushed to my computer to write it all down, I had the title, the subheadings, my points I wanted to bring across and examples. Within 30 minutes, the first draft was done. Planning works differently for different people. I don’t usually write out plans; I plan in my head. So maybe if it looks like someone is procrastinating, they are actually planning.
Some psychologists suggest there are 2 types of procrastinators: Active and passive.
“They found that, although active procrastinators reported the same level of procrastination as their traditional or passive counterparts, they demonstrated a productive use of time, adaptive coping styles and academic performance outcomes that were nearly identical to — and in some cases even better than — those of non-procrastinators.” — Amy Novotney
Hooray to active procrastinators!
If you google “successful people procrastinate” the first results be guides on “how successful people beat procrastination”. But is this really what made them successful? And what about the other successful people that admit to procrastination? Have they spent a lot of time trying to overcome it, or have they simply accepted that it works for them?
J.K. Rowling recently responded to a tweet about procrastination. She stated that she is on social media and plays Minecraft.
When readers were puzzled about this revelation she responded:
Sometimes you have to stop trying to force it, walk away and let your subconscious show you the way. Fill up on life for a while.
Hooray to active procrastinators. Let’s not forget that procrastination simply means delaying or postponing a task, it doesn’t mean forgetting or not doing the task at all. At the end of the day, what works for you, works for you. And if you can procrastinate and still write the best-selling book series in history, it’s clearly your superpower and not a character flaw.