Procrastination is a common struggle in the workplace. In fact, an estimated 20 percent of people are chronic procrastinators. People who procrastinate often carry the stigma of being unfocused and not timely in completing their work.
But that is not always the case. Some of the best minds have been notorious procrastinators, such as Apple's Steve Jobs, President Bill Clinton, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, to name but a few.
Of course, chronic procrastination can be a problem if it interferes with meeting deadlines or overall work performance, but embracing your inner procrastinator now and then can teach you to work smarter.
Here are three ways procrastinating can lead to better outcomes at work.
1. Increases creative thinking.
It has been suggested that procrastinating for a while before beginning a task may increases your divergent thinking--the thought process used to create ideas by exploring many possible solutions.
The idea arose from Dr. Jihae Shin of the University of Wisconsin who conducted several experiments where she asked people to come up with new business ideas. Some began right away while others were given five minutes to first play computer games. Everyone then submitted their ideas, which were rated on their originality. The results found that the procrastinators' ideas were 28 percent more creative.
While the science in this area is thin, the idea is that when we need to generate ideas, like for a project or business plan, we often don't give our minds adequate time to process the situation and run through different scenarios. We just jump in.
Yet, as Dr. Shin's research suggests -- when you procrastinate some, you may give your brain a chance to mull over everything and think about different ways to approach the situation. Plus, your procrastination can be brief. I find taking quick breaks during the workday--like going on a run, grabbing a meal, or calling a friend--keeps my mind fresh and provides the extra time I need to process everything.
2. Sharpens mental focus.
A study from Stanford University have found that multitaskers make more mistakes, have trouble remembering specifics, and often take longer to complete single tasks. Yet, waiting until the last possible moment can break the chain of multitasking and keep your mind laser-focused on one task until it's completed.
When you must meet a strict deadline after a period of procrastinating, you are less likely to be tempted by distractions. No matter how much time I have to finish a task, I often wait until the impending deadline to finish it. I still set deadlines on my calendar to help to stay on track during these bouts of procrastination to ensure I don't give myself too little time. But when the time comes to focus, I don't have time for anything else.
3. Calms the mind.
You may assume procrastination always increases stress, but one study in The Journal of Social Psychology, suggests that "active" procrastinators--those who prefer to work under pressure, and make deliberate decisions to procrastinate--may experience less stress than traditional procrastinators who feel overwhelmed by their indecision to finish a job.
The researchers found that by avoiding the work until later, active procrastinators return to the task with a clear head and are motivated to complete it. They also discovered that active procrastinators share many of the same positive traits as non-procrastinators, such as better use of time when working and high levels of self-efficiency. So if you suffer from deadline anxiety, purposefully stepping away for some time may help you approach the work with a calmer state of mind and a more gung-ho spirit
When work stress overwhelms me, I choose to procrastinate and use those moments to meet friends, spend time with my kids, or play music. When I allow time to break away and feed my soul, I often find the calmness I need to do my best work.
Everyone deals with procrastination at some point. Looming deadlines and work projects can cause so much stress that putting them off until later is the only solution. But instead of feeling guilty about procrastinating, embrace it for its many positive qualities. Sometimes avoiding work helps you come back to it with greater clarity, energy, and efficiency. So don't put off procrastination. Do some today.