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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Using Procrastination

Waiting until the last minute for anything is a way of life, one that is instilled in each of us through our many years of education -- elementary through university.  Sure, it would be smarter to do things ahead of time, plan things out ... but when it comes to school work, and eventually, "real" work - most people only deal with the urgent.  It's a theme in several of the essays from Seth Godin's new collaborative book; The Big Moo, where readers are reminded to "panic early" to deal with the fire drills of everyday work life.  Another essay in the book points to the acts of returning calls, answering urgent requests, and putting out fires as what most people refer to as "work."  But in the book's stated quest to be remarkable and help us improve ourselves and the way we work, I wonder if there may still be a place for procrastination after all.

As anyone who has worked in producing websites or web-based content knows, one of the greatest benefits of the Internet can also be its greatest foil ... the ease with which content can be changed.  Web content never really "goes to the printers" and can always be changed, and often it needs to be.  But there is a window of change that occurs in every web effort.  A time when there is a flurry of "urgent" changes from multiple teams and departments, sometimes with conflicting priorities.  It is the noise before a single reasoned choice (hopefully) emerges as victorious.  The problem with the "panic early" approach is that it puts you right in the midst of this noise, making fruitless changes upon changes.  Anticipating it, however, and procrastinating just long enough for the correct course to emerge is the best course. 

Procrastination inherently involves waiting until the last possible moment to do something.  While there may be many ways to prevent the time wasting activity described above, once it has occurred then time is the only factor that remains constant ... and with procrastination - time can be on your side.  Time offers pressure and pressure offers leverage.  And leverage is often the force that gets things done.


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In my opinion, there are only two situations where using procrastination could make sense. One is for when a criminal case goes on trial because emotions may not be settled enough if the trial happens too soon, and the other case is actually called filibustering. Seth Godin’s blog "Hurry!" actually hits the target for why procrastination does not work. The key is to learn to tackle the important stuff at the right time. However, there's something missing in his article: the real cause of urgency. I think he left it out on purpose in order to address a detrimental behavior that comes natural to people and replace it to a behavior that needs to be learned. He does not mention the fact that we often seem to become more lucid and action driven when we have to do something that's urgent, which is a subject you try to explore in your blog. Instead, he says we react to urgency because is immediately justifiable even if the results of those hastily reactions are detrimental.

I've heard since I was a kid that “necessity is the mother of all inventions”. This statement entails that if we don't see or feel a need (urgency), we won't act and become creative. Therefore, I may conclude that urgency triggers a creative drive that has been there via evolution and works in us at an unconscious level. Seth wants to remind us that we have the ability to think ahead and make things easier for ourselves. However, what about if what we've been putting off is designing a website and not just getting to the airport on time or sending payments due. Not much creative energy is needed to catch an airplane at the last moment, but it is much needed to design a website. How do we go about harnessing that drive derived from the sense of urgency and apply it to important situations at the right moment? That, my friend, is one of the attributes that separates geniuses from everyone else.

Yes, it is easy to use our intellect to make ourselves get out to the airport 10 minutes earlier. Yet, it is not easy to use our intellect to activate those creative juices at the right time. Nevertheless, like anything else that needs learning, the more we practice the better something is learned. So, I conclude Seth is right. Force yourself to the airport at the right time…, and also make those important decisions on time because eventually those creative juices may be activated at will.

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