Although procrastination is considered a bad word, there are times when procrastinating can make you more productive. When making presentations, I almost always wait for the last moment before I work on it. Here is why:
- You get more ideas. Creativity is the process of generating new ideas out of combinations of old ideas. The probability of creating combinations of old ideas grows as you gather more of those. When you procrastinate--you have more time to collect ideas.
- Ideas incubate. In the creative process, once old ideas occupy your head, they need time to incubate. Procrastination gives you that time. The probability of two old ideas meeting increases the longer they incubate in your head.
- Better alternatives come up. Before making decisions, you need to consider the alternatives. The more alternatives you have, the higher the probability of a better decision is. You may stumble upon an alternative simply because you didn't rush to take an earlier alternative.
- You have time to discuss your ideas with more people and get their feedback, that will result in better ideas and decisions. You won't benefit from their feedback if you pull the trigger on your decisions too early.
Watch the following TED video for more about the value of procrastination.
However, procrastination is not always good. There are times when it can hurt. Here is when:
- You find out you need more information and it's too late to get it. You think you know the scope of the task at hand, a form to be filled, a report to prepare, and as you reach the deadline you may discover that there is a piece of information that you don't have access to, and may not obtain until after the deadline.
- Getting close to the deadline stresses you. It doesn't stress me, but many people will get stressed because there is a task that is not complete, and the deadline is looming. If you are one of those--procrastination is really not good for your health.
- Something else comes up. You thought you could work on it at the last moment, but then life happens. The time you allocated for that late task is now occupied by something else, likely more important, and the task you didn't complete will not get complete on time.
So which is it? Procrastinate or not? Here is the wisdom you need to tell the difference:
- Are you a person that gets stressed if you are too close to the deadline? If you are--don't procrastinate. It could have negative physiological effects on you, and the quality of your work. Do it early so you can sleep better and keep your sanity. Don't have issues with stress? Enjoy the benefits of procrastination.
- Do you know if you have all the material? Maybe you don't have to complete the task, but at least glance through it to make sure you have everything you need to complete it. If there is an external piece of information or material you need--go get them, and only then procrastinate. The remaining task has to be completely within your ability to complete without any external information or support.
- Do you expect more ideas will come up? Do you think you know enough? Sometimes you know everything there is to know about the topic. OK, maybe not everything, but very close to it. In this case--procrastination will not give you new and useful information. However, if you know less than enough--take your time and get more ideas and information before you jump to complete the task.
- How comfortable are you that no new high priority activity will come up? Is your schedule generally predictable? How often do you expect urgent and unexpected tasks to come up? How willing are you to take the risk that a family or personal emergency will prevent you from completing the task?
- Finally--what is the Impact of missing the deadline? Can you survive it? Can it be rescheduled for a later date? Is the deadline so rigid that missing it means you lost a major opportunity in your professional life that will never come back?
One more advice. If this is an important task, and the deadline is non-negotiable--consider doing the "two-step." Complete the task "good enough" early on. Then procrastinate. When you get closer to the deadline, you would have collected more ideas, more alternatives, let your ideas incubate more, and will be in a position to improve your work. However, if an unexpected emergency came up--you still have something. And you will be much less stressed about it.