I've written a ton of articles on how to beat procrastination. They're generally pretty popular. So obviously lots of people out there struggle with putting things off. No surprise then that a recent New York Times op-ed by Wharton professor and author Adam Grant struck a nerve.
It's title? "Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate."
As my colleague Bill Murphy, Jr. highlighted, the seductive premise of the article is that deadlined-obsessed and highly organized Grant was actually able to increase his creativity by introducing a moderate amount of delay into his work.
"If you're a procrastinator, next time you're wallowing in the dark playground of guilt and self-hatred over your failure to start a task, remember that the right kind of procrastination might make you more creative. And if you're a pre-crastinator like me, it may be worth mastering the discipline of forcing yourself to procrastinate. You can't be afraid of leaving your work un," he writes in the witty conclusion to the piece.
The only trouble? It's not true.
While the idea that procrastination might not be a problem, but instead a positive virtue to cultivate will clearly be music to lots of people's ears, there's one small issue with this uplifting message -- it's kind of bunk.
That's the argument of a thoughtful Psychology Today post from Timothy A. Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University. Pychyl's main complaint about Grant's article is a matter of definitions -- what Grant is talking about isn't procrastination.
"While all procrastination is delay, not all delay is procrastination," he insists. "What Grant has written about is delay, purposeful delay at that. His lived experience and the research he draws on shows that 'haste can make waste,' and that purposely delaying action can be beneficial. I couldn't agree more. Many kinds of delay in our lives are strategic and beneficial."
In short, not rushing, which is what Grant is really talking about, is a great way to be more creative and thoughtful. No shock there. But not rushing isn't what people who worry about procrastination are concerned about. "Procrastination is that particular form of delay which captures our self-regulatory failure, where we fail to act as intended even though we are aware that this delay will probably come at a cost. Unlike the other forms of delay noted above, there is no upside to procrastination," Pychyl concludes.
Take Grant's advice. Just don't call it procrastination.
At the end of the day, Pychyl agrees with Grant's takeaway advice -- build some breathing space and room for reflection into your working routine -- he just doesn't think you should call this procrastination.
Is this a mere academic quibble? Maybe, but Pychyl seems motivated by a sincere interest in not giving those prone to coming up with lame excuses to put off working yet another lame excuse not to start. (i.e. "My procrastination isn't the destructive kind. I'm increasing my creativity by binge watching Making a Murderer instead of working! Adam Grant said so.") Urging type-A workers to chill a little shouldn't be confused with suggesting those who chronically underachieve because of their trouble with deadlines are on to a good thing.
Beating people up over their procrastination does no good (in fact it does harm -- forgiving yourself for your weaknesses is a much better way to tackle the problem, research shows) but neither does falsely suggesting that those with an actual procrastination problem aren't hurting their performance.
Who do you think is right about procrastination -- Grant or Pychyl?