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Leadership Digital

Procrastination is a verb

 

I have grown to love procrastination. I advocate for it for myself and for the leaders I work with. It’s become a goal, to learn to procrastinate in favor of not wearing myself down, thinking through my priorities, and being more intentional about what comes out of my mouth and the decisions I’ll make.

Putting things off gets a bad rap. We often hear of all of the downsides of procrastination. Most leaders I know are wired for action, but what if we take procrastination to heart and intentionally think of it as a verb (look it up, it’s true). Yes, it’s an action word. Is it possible that there are some upsides to procrastinating?

Every time you “act” instead of “react”, you’ve put more energy and heart into the actions you take. When you defer decisions and wait to speak, you’ll find that you are a better leader. Hard to do, yes – but terribly important. Before you dash off that scathing email or berate someone for their mistake, before you make a decision that you’ll regret later, slow down and procrastinate in order for your impulse to go to the rational part of your brain so that you can take deliberate action.

The upsides of procrastinating:

Less stress: When you purposefully decide to put off an action or decision, you can relax. Ask yourself if there is an urgent or immediate reason to do something right at this moment, of if you might put it off. If you think through your response, chances are that your actions will be more in keeping with your intentions as a leader. You may also find that your decisions are spot on the first time around rather than having to make careless mistakes and retract them.

Careful thought: Intentional procrastination will give you a chance to think through important actions that could make or break your leadership. Certainly, there are times when you need to react – but there are also times when it makes sense to hold off, to shut up, to put off, and to think through important decisions. When you are able to take the time, take a deep breath and think carefully about the action you want to take.

Genuine leadership: If you observe closely, you might find that the best leaders are thoughtful. You will see them asking questions of others in order to delay a decision while learning more about something before they leap. Or you might find that they will purposely state that they can’t make a decision about something right now, they need time to think about their responses. When you learn to do this, you’ll also learn to take action that is aligned with who you are as a leader.

Better actions: In the end, leaders are judged by the action they take. I’m not advocating for delaying everything or for inaction through procrastination, but for better action through deliberate procrastination. I know it sounds strange, but delay can often result in better leadership.

So think of deliberate procrastination as a verb, giving you the advantage of taking superior action and making better decisions. Don’t allow the continual pull of urgency to override your ability to think through your responses and be the best you can be.

 

7 Responses to “Procrastination is a verb”

  • Carl:

    Mary Jo, I found myself smiling while reading your post – I haven’t decided if you’ve simply stated a most eloquent rationalization or come across one of those hidden universal truths we all look for.
    Regardless, I completely agree and give a hardy Amen!

    Thank you for your thoughts and work
    Regards,
    Carl
    @SparktheAction

  • Carl, you gave me quite a laugh. Perhaps its a little rationalization and a little “hidden universal truths”. Interestingly, if you look at the dictionary definition, it says simply “to put off” and I think we action-oriented Americans have decided that putting something off is a bad thing. Why can’t it be a good thing sometimes?

  • This is a tricky one. Procrastination as a verb of pausing, actively reflecting can be great. I also see leaders procrastinating to avoid the tough decisions and difficult moves… which can cause missed opportunities and mushrooming problems. As with all things leadership, it’s surely complex. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  • Hi Karin, I think the problem of not slowing down and thinking through action and decisions is just as great as avoiding tough decisions. Particularly in fast-paced, action-oriented leaders and organizations. Maybe even more so, from my vantage point. Too much reacting going on! How about you?

  • Helen:

    Well I find it crippling. Depression, anxiety,frustration, missed opportunities, low self-esteem and loss of reputation as I struggle daily.
    I believe it is esentially anxiety and lack of focus. The words procrastination or avoidance are fluff.

    Strategies and routine are so important.

  • et:

    What you describe is not what I call procrastination, it’s just thinking things though. Procrastination is when you are not doing what you know you should be doing because there will be negative consequences. Procrastination implies there is a deadline, and that you’re past what you would consider reasonable in terms of the required thought and work to achieve that deadline. If you have the time for careful thought, then sure, you should take it, but that’s not procrastinating, that’s just taking the time that you have, and you should.

  • Helen, I’m sorry to hear that you are in such a spot. It seems to me that being intentional about your actions (reflecting before you act) pale in comparison. Take care.

    et – The Webster definition of procrastination doesn’t place a negative judgment on it: “the act of procrastinating; putting off or delaying or defering an action to a later time.”. I think there is far too little thought put into actions in our work world – and delaying (while reflecting), when you can, makes sense to me!

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Mary Jo Asmus
Mary Jo
A former executive in a Fortune 100 company, I own and operate a leadership solutions firm called Aspire Collaborative Services. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. I am married, have two daughters, and a dog named Edgar the Leadership Pug who exemplifies the importance of relationships to great leadership.
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