Words by Tara Young.
“To be or not to be, that is the question."
Would you call the troubled Dane’s mental machinations a form of wasteful procrastination? As one of Shakespeare’s most notable heroes, Hamlet and the play’s central theme of procrastination highlight that sometimes delaying and putting in some extra thought, can provide a more considered outcome and the best decision in the end – for Hamlet, he got to find out the extent of his mother’s guilt before he avenged his father’s death. Sure with everyone dying at the play’s conclusion, including his mum, it was probably not the best result, but hey, at least Hamlet was abreast of all the facts.
Positive things can emerge from procrastination.
For many, procrastination is a dirty word – in our busy, busy lives, who has time to procrastinate? We berate ourselves for being inefficient, unstructured, unmotivated, or perhaps the very worst four-letter word of all; lazy. A number of philosophers have highlighted that confusion and procrastination are good things, as they tend to be the signposts that you are on the precipice of clarity. Think about those moments when you suddenly have the compunction to go clean out a cupboard, indulge in some mindless click bait, or scrub out the bathroom - it may feel like you’re wasting time, but you’re actually giving your brain some room to work out an issue. Like Hamlet, it can give your mind time to digest and analyse some more aspects before you ultimately decide.
Also many of us say, “I work best under pressure,” as an automatic response to the question as to why we haven’t completed a task earlier. There is considerable truth to this as procrastination can prevent having to rework something because there have been new developments in the interim.
So before you start beating yourself up, here are some useful hints to get the best out of your procrastination time.
6 Ways to Make Procrastination a Positive.
1. Do it with structure
Structured procrastination has actually become a thing, so much so there have been books written about it. If you know that you will need to have some thinking time in order to tackle a task – schedule some down time for exactly that. Allow some time for rumination and contemplation, even if you don’t consider it a big task, there may be complicated issues involved that just need a little thought behind them.
2. Work out why the delay – is it an iceberg?
Sometimes, if you find yourself procrastinating (and not during scheduled procrastination time) it could be an indication of something much bigger at play – maybe your current stalling is just the tip of the iceberg. Could it be that the task at hand is not the one you should be devoting your time to today, and that there other bigger “life” issues like family commitments that should have your attention at this moment; or perhaps pursuing lifelong dreams is something you should be looking into rather than the job you find yourself in now. Once you have these bigger questions answered, you can plan and structure how you can address them and then you will find your mind can settle back to the task before you.
3. Avoid feeling guilty
There are plenty of reasons to choose from if you want to go down the road of feeling guilty – self criticism for procrastination tends to beget more procrastination – forgive yourself and move on.
4. Just do one little thing
If you really are feeling hemmed in a tight circle of procrastination, do a little thing, easy or hard it doesn’t matter. The simple act of doing one thing can trickle down to doing one more thing after that and then one more thing…
5. Get a procrastination buddy
Find a fellow procrastinator, you will find plenty in or outside your work area. People who you can contact to share or discuss why you are procrastinating – guaranteed you will not be alone in this space, and a procrastination partner will help keep both of you on track.
6. Procrastinate with joy
If you need to let your subconscious do its stuff with some positive procrastination in order to tackle a task, make it even better and allow it do its stuff while you are doing something joyful. Head out for a walk, coffee with a friend, sit outside with a view, take in a gallery – doing a joyful activity can inspire a new motivation or a fresh look at an old problem.
Lastly, some other wise words from Hamlet’s good friend Polonius, “To thine own self, be true,” do provide some useful insight for procrastinators. It is likely that you know yourself sufficiently to recognise that as a part of how you work includes procrastination. The evidence above would suggest that it is actually a great way to kickstart your project, so what are you waiting for? Stop doing what you're doing, and start procrastinating!