When is Procrastination Positive?

People write frequently about how to stop procrastinating. But when is procrastination positive?

Two rationalizations I hear people utter frequently:

  1. We’ve gone without doing (x) for (specified time), what’s wrong with waiting another (specified time)
  2. If we don’t (do x) now, we’ll never do it.

#1 is a rationalization for procrastinating and #2 is a rationalization against procrastinating. Both can be equally wise or equally foolish depending on how you fill in the blanks.

Examples of #1:
We’ve gone without attacking a small defenseless country for the last 200 years, why not wait another 200 years?

We’ve gone without eating healthy meals for the last six months, what’s wrong with waiting another six months?

Example of #2:
Let’s say you just inherited $200,000.
You could say either of these things:

If we don’t start saving money now, we’ll never do it.

If we don’t buy the Ferrari now, we’ll never do it.

Procrastination is neither positive nor negative; it’s simple decision making. If you choose to procrastinate, you are deciding to spend your time and/or money doing something else.

John Perry wrote a fabulous Essay on the topic of Structured Procrastination.

I wonder how he got around to it? Maybe he told himself – if I don’t write this essay now, I’ll never write this essay.

7 thoughts on “When is Procrastination Positive?”

  1. Steve,

    Amazing you wrote this. I’ve had an idea in the back of my head for a post praising procrastination for a few weeks now. Hopefully I’ll get it together. Someone needs to contradict all the GTD junkies.

  2. I think you´re absolutely right.
    Procrastination is neither positive nor negative; It always depends on the situation. If you procrastinate to do something dumb – that´s positive. But more then not procrastination is a bad strategy. Basically it´s deciding that you want to do something and then deciding that you don´t want to take action to do it. Makes no sense intellectually but emotionally it makes alot of sense – we have to ask ourselves WHY? Most of the times it´s fear of something.

  3. Time, even leisure time, doesn’t always have to be productive. There’s not only a place for, but a value in, time-wasting, so long as it isn’t disrupting your goals (guess you just have to trust yourself to know where that line is). Sometimes the best ideas and decisions come when you’re just goofing off or focusing on things you “shouldn’t” be focusing on.

  4. I agree. It’s totally dependent on the nature of our task which makes procrastination positive or negative.
    Some of our tactics include procrastination and it doesn’t mean that it’s always a bad thing.

  5. Steve:

    I found you through a comment you had left at “Today is That Day.” I read your post with fascination because obviously you’ve had a lot of adversity in your life, namely dealing with depression and procrasination.

    Thanks for sharing your story! I wonder if you would be interested in a tagging experiment I’m doing over at my blog? I’m looking to invite bloggers to share their “adversity” experiences and tag others to do so. You can see it through the link I’ve provided above.

    Very nice write up Steve!

  6. Great post. It’s a great reminder for everyone that procrastinating is not always negative. It depends on how we use it which makes it positive and negative. Since most of the things we procrastinate are always negative, then it has become negative for us.

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