In high school it was a huge issue for me, because as a high schooler I was still inexperienced at it. I frequently found myself in last-minute mode, moving swiftly from one self-induced crisis to another.
College wasn’t any better. The assignments were more spread out, but the due dates tended to be final due dates, whereas in high school there were usually several interim deadlines for milestones.
Constantly having a lot of irons in the fire was a persistent source of low-key anxiety for me throughout high school, but in college I came to terms with the fact that I am never going to have a truly clean slate during the semester. That to-do list will never be empty, and I stopped letting it be a source of anxiety.
Instead, I started leveraging my procrastination strategically. If I am feeling like procrastinating on some task, I just procrastinate. That’s what Nike means when they say “Just do it,” right?
Instead of hating myself for lacking discipline and focus, I pick from a buffet of other things that need my attention. And then later on I’ll go and do the thing I originally wanted to do, only now this time I’ll do a better job because my mind’s in the right space to do the work. If the due date creeps up and I still haven’t been motivated to do it, the looming deadline usually is motivation enough, and I get my task done. The only difference: I didn’t spend the whole time feeling bad for procrastinating.
If I need something done by the 30th and I finish it on the 10th, that task isn’t somehow more done just because I finished it earlier. You don’t save any money paying a credit card bill 2 weeks before the due date instead of on the due date. So who cares if you did it at the last minute?
Common wisdom is that procrastination is a character flaw; that if you procrastinate it’s because you’re lazy or something. But what good does it do to think that? If you treat your procrastination as a prioritization tool, you can get more done and you won’t be agonizing over your work.
There are lots of characteristics that benefit from not being seen as a character flaw. Are you forgetful? Set up infrastructure and other things around you to help you remember things. Are you prone to making a costly typo when deploying some new code to a server? Automate it with a script that validates things to make sure you didn’t make a stupid mistake.
Now, while everyday procrastination can be innocent enough, keep an eye on your procrastinating, because persistent procrastination can be a symptom of psychological issues. If you are not usually prone to procrastination and you find yourself doing it more recently (or if you’re procrastinating on things you usually don’t procrastinate on), that could also be a symptom of something deeper going on emotionally. Some good first steps to help understand your feelings and behaviors better include journaling, talking to an insightful and supportive friend, and talking to a therapist.
With that, I’ll get back to the the task I was putting off!