Creative Procrastination—Less Work, Less Worry

“Procrastination is the thief of time”

That whimper has been heard too often to goad children and adults into action.

Habitual procrastination with every activity does have negative consequences. Also, there is the nagging worry of having projects hanging over your head.

However, procrastination, used as a selective tool, can really be used to benefit. It just requires a clear understanding of when procrastination adds value. The trick is to spend a few minutes and see what the consequences for procrastination are for the activity at hand. The activities tend to fall into groups. Some examples are shown below:

Procrastinate based on the Effect of Time on Consequences

Progressive—The negative consequences of not acting increase with time. There is no benefit to delay.

Example: A young patient has cataracts and the eye doctor reports that they will require surgery within the next year

Comment: This is a progressive problem as there is continued decrease in vision until the operation. In progressive cases, there is greater benefit in acting soon (in order to restore better eyesight) rather than later to have the same result.

Self-limiting—The consequences do not change with time, but there is a deadline.

Example: A child’s birthday party has space for 10 people, but 12 or 13 have accepted.

Comment: This is a self limiting problem, since the consequences are known and reasonable. It is also, the experience that cancellations of known acceptances to parties, weddings etc. are generally about 10%. There are always ways to handle an extra person. Consequently, no advance action is required for self-limiting projects.

Schedule dependent—At a known time, an event occurs and time for action is over.

Example: A progress report is due in two weeks.

Comment: This is fully schedule dependent. The important point is to begin work at the right time. If you start too early, the effort drags on and consumes additional work. Habitual procrastinators begin work too late and end up in a crush. Schedule dependent projects are best handled by initially making a reasonable estimate of the amount of work required and then putting the work on hold until the appropriate time.

Chronic–Minimal negative consequences, no end date. If the consequences are acceptable, there is no reason to devote energy to it.

Chronic projects, such as cleaning the house, tend not to happen. Life can go on without them.
However, other chronic projects, such as contacting an old friend, also fall into the chronic category. However in these cases, the consequences of regaining contact with a friend are fully positive. Activities without deadlines that have positive consequences tend to be undervalued. Additional emphasis on the value of positive consequences may be needed to determine whether procrastination is of use.

In summary, the approach is to estimate the effect of elapsed time on the consequences and take the appropriate action. The nagging worries of an undone project have been addressed.

Two perspectives of worry

1.Write down the pressing concerns on a sheet of paper. Put the list aside for a week, and then look at it again. Note how many have disappeared on their own. Work on those that remain.

2. “If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.” (His Holiness the Dalai Lama)

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