How to Embrace Procrastination (Because it's Good for You)

I often quote Originals by Adam Grant to whoever will listen because so many great case studies from it have stuck in my mind and continue to guide the way I work now. There is a great story about Martin Luther King Jr who wrote his 1963 speech, one of the most famous of all time, the night before he was due to give it. The most surprising and reassuring thing is that those most powerful words, “I have a dream” weren’t part of the original script. They came to him as he stood on the podium. That speech was the amalgamation of everything that he had gone through up to that point, all his experiences, learning and thinking. Coming together in truth, passion and utter conviction…the right words fell into place at the right time.

This story was the turning point of my own procrastination. I flipped from a stressed mess of guilt as each project or task took longer than I believed was acceptable; into a calmer version of myself. And the most surprising consequence of that realisation was that once I stopped worrying about procrastinating and accepted it as part of my process, I actually became much more productive.

Now I’m completely confident that procrastination is a critical part of my creative process. Because after all, what is procrastination but your mind gently mulling over pros, cons, ideas, doubts, alternatives… getting you to a better, more thoughtful place in the end (usually just as the deadline is about to hit by some coincidence).

Things you can start to do right now

I don’t know how to get you to that mental point of acceptance if a catalyst like the Martin Luther King Jr story doesn’t work for you. But here are the top 5 things I actually, honestly do to alleviate stress around procrastination, should I still struggle to get the tough stuff done.

5. Do the worst stuff first

I procrastinate on the jobs that will take time and aren’t fun but are necessary. I dedicate the first hour (set the timer!) of each day to do the shitty admin stuff I’ve been avoiding, like replying to a difficult email, and don’t allow any distractions. It’s only an hour but will make a meaningful dent in that list you’ve been stressing about.

4. Build small habits one at a time

Give yourself set days/times for tasks that you need to build up a habit of doing regularly, e.g. Looking for and booking networking events, writing blog posts, or doing your accounting! Schedule set days/times into your calendar for recurring tasks so you can get into a predictable habit at the same time each week or month.

3. When you create something, share it immediately

The best example of this is when writing a blog post, to schedule (I use the free version of Buffer) or post it as soon as it is finished. Don’t hold on to it waiting for more time to perfect it because that day will never come. Near enough is good enough and better out than in, I say!

2. Turn off

Turn notifications off for all of your apps and turn your phone face down or better still, leave it in another room. This is probably the easiest thing to physically do but the most difficult to get past mentally. Honestly, if it’s not right in front of you, you won’t be tempted by the latest Whatsapp message or Facebook alert.

1. Remove the urge to surf.

If you’re like me, I’ll be distracted by 10 other less important tasks instead of the one I set out to do. Ask yourself “if I click this link will it help me finish the original task?” The answer will most often be no. So, learn to say no to yourself when you start to get distracted. The other day I was putting the finishing touches to a blog and while researching links I could have found 20 other things to do — posts to read, videos to watch, emails to delete, email lists to unsubscribe to — the distractions were endless but every time I found myself doing anything other than the specific research I needed to do, I made a conscious effort to stop mid-thought and continue the main task.

Work on accepting that the time you spend procrastinating will get you to your best result. You’re subconsciously weighing up pros and cons, alternative options, different scenarios. It’s no coincidence we come up with the best solution the day before it’s due. So embrace it, and let it run it’s course.