What if procrastination had an upside?

“I’ll do it tomorrow.”

We’ve all said this at one point or another, whether referencing laundry, cleaning, studying or paying mind to an important work project. Procrastination is a difficult habit to break, and a tricky urge to fight. And a lot of us battle it often—Twenty percent of people describe themselves as chronic procrastinators, meaning procrastination, for them, is a lifestyle.

Whether we procrastinate all the time, or every once in awhile, we know it can have negative effects on our productivity, and hold us back from getting many things done. So, when all’s said and done, we tend to berate ourselves for engaging in this behavior. Procrastination is seen as a dominantly negative behavior, so it appears to deserve punishment. But, wait, are we sure that there aren’t any benefits to procrastination? Is it actually a completely negative tendency?

As it turns out, many people have their most creative ideas in the midst of procrastination.

A certain level of procrastination has been shown to maximize creativity. Those who procrastinate at this level, the “moderate” procrastinators, have been proven to be 16% more creative.

Why would those who put everything off end up bring more creative? Well, active procrastination isn’t just sitting around doing nothing. People typically put things off in order to do something else that seems more important. No matter what they do, people tend to think a lot. The more thinking that’s done before a project, the more creative and original the ideas the people have will be. And thinking a lot before making a decision or jumping into action does not necessarily seem like a bad thing.

Procrastination does have a lot of potential to hinder productivity, but it can definitely boost creativity, and improve the quality of work.

So now that we know that procrastination isn’t completely bad, why do we do it? What pushes us to procrastinate, and why do some people do it more often than others? Many people guess that procrastination is caused by being lazy, being unmotivated, or trying to avoid tasks. While these factors can play a part in procrastination, our brains are wired in a way that makes us predisposed to procrastinate. Our brains have systems for both rational decision making and instant gratification. Procrastination occurs when we’re faced a difficult or not-so-fun task, and our desire for instant gratification overwhelms our rational decision making system. So we procrastinate, looking for easier and more fun alternatives to the main task. When a deadline gets closer, panic sets in, motivating us to get back on the rational decision making track. The cycle repeats itself with the next daunting or undesirable task.

When there’s no deadline, procrastination becomes a real problem.

No deadline means no panic, and no motivation to switch from the instant gratification track to the rational decision making track. This long-term procrastination is what makes people feel extremely unhappy and hopeless. The short-term, deadline affected procrastination is just one way of getting things done, and typically works, but long-term procrastination just pushes off tasks and prevents them from getting done at all.

We can make the best of procrastination by trying to balance our lives and keep ourselves in check. We can allow and utilize short-term procrastination to increase our creativity, and keep our eyes peeled for long term procrastination to stop it in its tracks. Procrastination is both a blessing and a curse, and all we can do is make the best of it.

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