Procrastination is a dirty word. It doesn’t need to be. Procrastination that stems from a lack of discipline, causes you to lose sight of your goals, and results in decreased productivity deserves a bad rap. But what about postponing or avoiding things that can otherwise cause us pain and frustration if we apply the go-forward, “get it done” approach? Is this type of procrastination such a bad thing? We don’t see it as a bad thing. In fact, we suggest that you include strategic procrastination among your most important tools for increased productivity.
Let’s take today’s postponement as an example. We were scheduled to travel into a remote part of British Columbia to visit a pulp mill construction site tomorrow. Actually, it is a deconstruction site because the mill is being dismantled and shipped to China for reconstruction. It snowed in the area last night and is expected to snow again tomorrow. We could still visit the site because the weather hasn’t been bad enough to shut it down. We simply figured that the place is dangerous enough as it is with all sorts of concrete and steel debris sticking up from the frozen ground. Adding a blanket of snow makes it worse. The travel to and from the site is also harder. We decided to put it off until next week and to cancel it altogether if things got worse in the meantime. This is an obvious example but the idea applies to more subtle things just as well.
There are a few good reasons to postpone things. Here is a list of seven places where you should consider applying a strategic postponement:
- Where problems go away with time. The above weather example is a typical instance of where time makes a problem go away. Snow melts and evaporates. Many medical problems go away with time. Don’t be too quick to order a back surgery when natural healing processes can do a much better job if given enough time.
- Where problems are best ignored. Email spam and quasi-spam is a great example of this. Going out and trying to stop the spammers and beating up on friends and associates who send you stuff you don’t want is likely going to be a waste of time and effort leading to increased frustration for everyone involved. Just ignore the spam and delay the responses to email that comes in multiples. A delayed but polite and short response to a group of emails from a friend or associate received over days, weeks or longer can save you time, effort and frustration.
- Where you have good back-up and support systems in place. Don’t feel overly obligated to arrange or attend a meeting where you have others who can take part or all of the load if you simply postpone the meeting. Many urgent meetings, whether scheduled or not, deserve to be postponed. Sometimes they become effectively canceled after a postponement because a constructive solution appears in the meantime.
- Where something more important comes up. Be careful to properly assess the relative importance of things that come up. Skipping lunch to take an urgent call from your stockbroker is probably more important if you are being asked to sell than to buy. Postpone the call rather than skip lunch if you value your health.
- Where you are getting into a deal. Most Japanese business people are experts at procrastinating when being asked to get into a new deal or venture. This gives them time to carefully consider the relevant aspects and prepare for whatever consequences there are. Once in the deal, you should be fully prepared to follow through. Don’t be too quick to buy into stuff.
- Where you are tired, hungry or angry. This should be obvious but often isn’t. If you need to rest, sleep or cool down, postpone whatever it is that is preventing you from obtaining your basic needs. For instance, if you haven’t slept more than four hours in the past day or if you are feeling ill, it would probably be a good idea to postpone any major decisions.
- Where people are on your back because you are known to be a doer. Rather than going ahead and doing everything you are asked to do every time, depending on your position and priorities, procrastinate once in a while. Sometimes a good approach is to use someone else’s tendency to procrastinate in your defense. For example, if someone asks you to do something right away, respond by requesting a prerequisite to your going ahead. Maybe request an approval, budget, briefing paper or other useful piece that will help with the overall outcome. Be careful not to create useless work by asking for something irrelevant that does not add value to the process.
There is no need to sweat all the stuff that comes your way as soon as it comes. By applying these Strategic Postponement tools, you will be able to increase your overall productivity, enhance your well-being, and more effectively move toward your goals at a pace of your choosing. Feel free to occasionally say “Not now, maybe later.”