August 15th, 2017

Can procrastination be productive?

It can be, sometimes.

There’s an old adage “never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” It’s a warning for procrastinators to stay focused and get working. There’s a general perception that procrastination is bad, and it can be if it prevents you from getting what you need done. It’s also very common. According to a meta-analytic study[1] into the topic, the vast majority of college students (approximately 80% to 95%) tend to procrastinate (Ellis & Knaus, 1977; O’Brien, 2002). When the scope is expanded to consider the general adult population, it appears that 15% to 20% of us are considered chronic procrastinators (J. Harriott & Ferrari, 1996; “Haven’t Filed Yet,” 2003).

So, is this all bad news? Not necessarily.

If used effectively, procrastination can result in better outcomes. This is because productive procrastinators use the time that they should be working, on thinking. They are generating ideas, thinking through these concepts and formulating their plan of action. These procrastinators are actually releasing their creative juices and becoming more productive because of it.

Still not convinced on the benefits of procrastination? Consider the accomplishments of these famous procrastinators[2]. Leonardo Da Vinci, the famed 15th century painter and sculptor, took 16 years to complete his most seminal work, the Mona Lisa. Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States, was known to leave finalizing his speeches to the last minute. Frank Lloyd Wright, renowned American architect, created the design for his most famous structure, Fallingwater, in only two hours after delaying work for almost a year.

There can be a fine line between productive procrastination and failing to complete tasks or projects. To ensure that you get the benefits of procrastination but still stay on target, make sure you keep to your deadlines and have someone hold you accountable. Your procrastination must also be purposeful; that is, you’re using the time to reflect and contemplate rather than to avoid a problem. Also, if you’re putting off studying so you can let various facts and concepts percolate in your mind, schedule enough time before your deadline – perhaps small chunks of study time – so you’re not panicking. Make procrastination your friend, but only if it will help you achieve the results you want.

Check out some of our other study tips:

Study hack for better exam results

The 7 habits of successful students

Tips for finding study time