Waiting for the benefits


It’s so easy sometimes to choose the easy path and procrastinate. But just because it’s easy doesn’t mean that it’s not an okay habit to have, so long as you do it right. Image courtesy of CamStockPhoto.com (www.canstockphoto.com)

Rebecca Barkdoll, Opinion Editor

As the semester gets busier and busier, it is both easier and more difficult to ignore looming deadlines and important tasks. Yet, so many of us, myself included, spend so much time procrastinating the time away until we suddenly find ourselves scrambling to get things done in time.

I think we all know that this isn’t exactly the healthiest way of doing things, even if we’re more motivated. After all, stress isn’t good for us, and last minute panic to complete our assignments isn’t exactly relaxing. But what if there were benefits to procrastinating?

There are, actually, depending on how you handle procrastination. If you are a procrastinator who avoids even thinking about your upcoming tasks until it’s too late, then there are probably fewer benefits, but still.

See, by procrastinating, you are not aiming for perfection. This may not be your intent—in fact, many procrastinators are perfectionists in disguise—but a rushed task is much less likely to meet all the requirements, simply because there’s less time to work on them.

How is this a good thing? Well, it means that you’ve got great opportunities to learn to live with a satisfactory result rather than a perfect one, which is beneficial because there is no such thing as perfection and we’re better off learning that lesson quickly. A procrastinator has plenty of opportunities to do so.

Now, this sounds like I’m saying that putting off a task means it can never be well done. Not true. There are ways to procrastinate that can lead to success, and there are plenty of people who do far better doing a hurried, last-minute job. Sometimes their success comes from the fact that the task looks too large until it’s last minute and then the deadline looks larger. Sometimes it may come from executive dysfunction—the inability to make decisions—that they can’t get past until their time is almost up. It could be many things, and if that works, then it works.

But for many, it also leads to feelings of guilt, anxiety and failure. Sometimes the large task looks larger with the threatening deadline and sometimes executive dysfunction only gets worse as their time dwindles to a close. This is the stress that needs to be avoided, but it does not mean that procrastination needs to be as well.

There are ways to make procrastination work for you, and here are some of the ones that I’ve found:

Think about it. I’ve found that I can put off writing a paper a lot longer without sacrificing quality if I start thinking about it early. I think about the requirements, I think about possible topics and I think about potential sources. But I don’t actually do anything about it until much closer to the deadline. I don’t sit down and think about it at a scheduled time, but when I’m walking or driving or eating. Five- to ten-minute snippets per day until I’ve figured it out.

Start small. Put off the main work even longer by doing the prep work in small segments. Have a half hour? Do a section. Have ten minutes? Do another section, however works for you. You’re still procrastinating, but you’re getting things done too.

Allow yourself to get distracted—just not a lot. Probably part of what tends to make people procrastinate is stress and anxiety, so taking the time to relax is a good way to put things off in a way that will help you out later.

Complete several tasks at once. I know, I know, that seems like the exact opposite of procrastination, but hear me out. If you do a small segment of one task you’re procrastinating on, then switch to a small segment of another task you’re also procrastinating on, then you’re being productive on two fronts while still holding off on really working on them. It also helps to distract you from any worries you might have about the one task while you’re working on the other.

I’m sure that there are many more ways to be a productive procrastinator, but these four are the ones that I fall back on the most. By making them habits, I can reduce my stress levels while still avoiding a last-minute panic, something that I’m very prone to doing. So for those of you who have hated your procrastination for whatever reason, don’t worry. There are ways around that without giving up your ability to put aside upcoming tasks.

*Note: This article ran April 11