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The Unexpected Connection Between Procrastinating and Being Productive

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Time management, self-discipline and diligence: These are the virtues to aspire to when it comes to all things work. As for procrastination? Well, that is undoubtedly bad. There’s certainly no debate to be had over that.

Or so you might think.

“I eschewed all of the conventional wisdom on how to stop stalling and start doing. I backburnered all manner of things until after the last possible second. I lost focus (sporadically) and stared off into space, I stepped completely away from the office (not just at lunch), I read, I made personal telephone calls, I tweeted, I tumbld, I even found out which House of Cards character I am,” wrote Fast Company ‘s Lydia Dishman.

Dishman, a reporter who has contributed to the likes of CBS MoneyWatch and The New York Times, was prompted to start a one-week procrastination experiment after a Fast Company colleague wrote about the subject just a few weeks ago. In her piece, “6 Reasons to Embrace Procrastination,” Stephanie Vozza said “structured procrastinators get more done.”

As Dishman put Vozza’s thesis to the test last week, she arrived at her own conclusion: “After 40 hours of a regular work week I made two startling discoveries: 1) I actually get more work done after I stall. 2) Putting things off is harder than I thought.”

Though they go against conventional wisdom, and pretty much everything we’re taught, Dishman’s findings are not all that foreign.

As she notes, there have been a number of people who have come out of the school of contrarianism to try to reverse the bad reputation that procrastination has had for so long. Procrastinating isn’t the end-all-be-all type of catastrophe for your work that it seems.

The key, as is the case with most things, is doing it smarter. Dishman discovered this with most of her routines during the day. The first habit she experimented with was emailing, as she tried an alternative to the pick-up-the-phone-first-thing-in-the-morning policy she usually employed.

“I put off even glancing at the phone until after I’d washed up, dressed and had breakfast,” the Fast Company reporter wrote. “A much calmer entry into the day translated to tackling email more deliberately later. Putting off the task helped me get to zero unread messages in a more concentrated period of time without distractions.”

Though the advancement of smartphones has made email practically ubiquitous -- which essentially makes you available at any time of the day and gives people good reason to expect an answer now, now, NOW -- and often requires us to stop what we’re doing to send a reply, Dishman found joy in the wait. Taking care of herself first, with a peace of mind and the task of responding to a long list of inquiries not a priority, led to an apparent breakthrough. Dishman went into her designated time to take care of messages in a less frantic manner and, presumably, less begrudgingly.

The idea of not entertaining any task until the mind is at ease is an interesting one, indeed, but it doesn’t concern the most chronic form of procrastination. When it comes to procrastinating, the most common issue is likely to be the phenomenon of your mind wandering off into la-la land unexpectedly. Even this, however, can prove helpful.

Each of these little pauses reset my thinking in short order, making it easier to take on the next task and work to completion,” Dishman said. “It’s also a great stress buster.”

Overall, a common theme emerged from the writer’s experiment: Each time she returned to productivity from an unashamed period of procrastination, Dishman found herself refreshed, inspired and ready, sometimes with new insight gained through deep thought.

Some might argue, though, that the problem isn’t procrastination, per se; it’s not having the freedom to procrastinate “effectively.” After all, Dishman had the luxury of openly embracing procrastination (during what she regarded as an “average” work week) as part of an exercise that was technically done for the purpose of an article, and thus for work. That embrace might be harder to accomplish with bosses barking for results every hour or a professor’s hard deadline looming -- factors which can lead to a lot of pressure.

Most pressure, though, always seems to be self-imposed. That’s a personal opinion, albeit things simply never turn out to be as bad as they seem during our most stressful times.

Furthermore, working in response, this type of stress usually involves trying to engage in hectic, hastened, head-banging-against-the-wall type of work, which seldom ends up resulting in the best product, anyway. Yes, that’s also a personal opinion, but this isn’t: For those who are able to shake off the pressure, embrace a sense of ease and learn to procrastinate effectively, a boom in creativity, amongst other benefits, is likely to be experienced.

“If you go back through history of human culture and take away every invention that was made by someone who was supposed to be doing something else, I’m willing to bet there wouldn’t be a lot left,” said John Perry, author of The Art of Procrastination told Vozza.

This writer is willing to bet the same.

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