Procrastination: The Good, The Bad, and The Remediations To Be More Productive

On a beautiful summer day in August 1963, world history was changed forever due to the powerful Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a dream” speech. Though the speech itself was remarkable and life-altering, the majority of Martin’s words came from staying up all night before the big day in a hotel with seven advisors preparing the speech last minute. For the most part, Martin reads through his notes that he and his advisors came up with, as you can see him doing here, but then hesitation set in.

Martin looked out into the crowd, spotting his friend and gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who shouted to Martin, “tell them about the dream,” and that is precisely what Martin did. He ditched his notes and formulated a public speech at the drop of a dime. This is what good procrastination is, and the perfect example of what using mastered procrastination looks like.

In this article, we will be going over the most common myth around procrastination, which is that all procrastination is negative. It will also be discussed on how to remediate negative procrastination and proving that there is some good in this cognitive sector, as demonstrated by Martin.

Myth: All procrastination is Negative

When talking about procrastination, it is far too easy to view it as a bad thing. We see this neglection and wait until the last minute simply because we convinced ourselves that our future abilities would be better equipped to handle the task than our current selves, which is never the case.

You see, there is a prominent misconception in terms of procrastination. The way most people see it is things you do not want to do versus the split decision. For example, a business manager named Igor Ansoff came up with the term Analysis Paralysis.

Analysis Paralysis

Analysis Paralysis, which is also referred to in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink,” is a position where, when faced with many decisions all at once, instead of deciding, you fold. You become paralyzed and do not do anything at all because you either do not know where to begin, don’t know how to figure the situation out, or you deem it too hard, resulting in you leaving it behind for your future self to deal with later.

This is considered harmful or avoidance procrastination. You stall, put things off, or completely shut down and do something else because you simply do not want to do the dull task or it is too hard to figure out where to begin. Remember, doing nothing is always the worst choice, unless you are doing it to better your mental health.

Why We Procrastinate — The Brain Battle

We procrastinate because we either find the task too boring, or too challenging. So, we tell ourselves that it will be better to do it later when our future self is more up for the task. However, it is a skillful lie we believe to get out of doing something important. Now, the bigger question is, where does this stem from? You might be happy to know it is not just pure laziness. In summary, it is a brain battle between your prefrontal cortex (executive functions, planning attention, focus) and your limbic system (emotion awards and pleasure).

When you need to do something that is dull and fosters no award for completing it, your limbic system pumps the brakes on your prefrontal cortex because there is no pleasure in getting that task done. It is basically saying, why bother because there is nothing in it for me. That part of your brain wants to do something more fun and enjoyable and pushes the task off for later you to deal with. Because the limbic system tends to be stronger, it is also why it tends to win the fight. A great resource to check out that goes deeper into the chemical reactions with this brain war is a PBS YouTube video that you can find here.

Furthermore, there was also an interesting study conducted involving puzzles. Those who were known to procrastinate delayed the puzzles, but once the moderators told them that it was just for fun, those people performed the same as their non-procrastinating counterparts because it triggered the limbic system.

Breaking the Bad Procrastination Habit

The good thing is that if you host bad procrastination, you are not doomed. There are two ideal ways that you can tackle procrastination, each being valuable for different reasons.

1. The first way should be used when you need to complete dull, tedious tasks (such as washing the dishes or going to the gym). Because your limbic system is screaming for awards, give it what it wants. Pair up something rewarding with the task you need to do, such as listening to music while you work out, or getting absorbed in a podcast while doing housework. When your limbic system is stimulated, it makes it much easier to get things done and stay focused.

“Our brains are always looking for relative rewards. If we have a habit loop around procrastination, but we haven’t found a better reward, our brain is just going to keep doing it over and over until we give it something better to do,” — psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr. Judson Brewer.

2. The second “cure” is for those tasks that are hard to do; those tasks that you may not know where to start, so you just put off and hope for a miracle fix. With this, you need to use your imagination. Really visualize the consequences if you do not finish something important and feel the ramification from that lack of action on your part. Think of your family, your business, your well-being, and all the worst-case scenarios if you continue to neglect your task. This should get you motivated to avoid reaching those probable adverse outcomes and stop delaying.

Good Procrastination

Abraham Lincoln once said: “Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first 4 sharpening the ax”. This is a perfect example of good procrastination. Stalling the task at hand to figure out how to do it accurately is the best form of procrastination. Other common people who have this are planners and architects, always scoping out the layout before actually making a physical move. It is putting off something, but with the task’s best interest in mind. This, along with mastered procrastination, is what Martin used to make his speech.

Mastered Procrastination

Martin’s speech was not something that he just blindly pulled out. It was compiled of past experiences and his perfected approach in public speaking that made him able to formulate his words into a coherent and moving message. He took parts from his rally in Arizona, pieces from his speech from Detroit, and his underlying experiences to make that historical movement. He mastered procrastination. He did not delay a task he was not familiar with; he utilized his skills in what he knew and made something great out of it. This is the kind of procrastination that one should seek after.

What’s Next?

Procrastination happens to everyone, but knowing how to make both sides of your brain happy at the same time is key. Remember, negative procrastination is doing nothing, whereas positive is taking the time to figure out the task and relying on your present self to handle the challenge to avoid adverse outcomes that would foster if you waited or did nothing (aka Analysis Paralysis).

The best thing you can do to change is to be as mindful of your actions and use that as a resourceful weapon against procrastination habits. In addition, use the tools mentioned above to remediate that unwanted thought process so you can stay motivated and feel accomplished each day.

Todd Lemense

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Todd Lemense

Todd Lemense

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