July 15, 2016

Getting Things Done by Putting Things Off

Most people are familiar with Benjamin Franklin’s quote, “Don’t Put off Till Tomorrow What You Can Do Today” whether from a motivational poster at the dentist’s or a meme posted to Pinterest. The philosophy epitomizes the storied American work ethic of TCB (taking care of business). However, fast forward a few decades and Mr. Franklin may have struggled to accomplish as much in today’s culture of hyper-multitasking and always-on technology. So perhaps it’s time to question whether procrastination really is such a bad thing—in fact, a lot can be said for putting things off. You may actually get MORE done.

Keep in mind that putting things off does not mean refusing to complete important assignments. Rather, it’s shifting one’s approach from dreading that rigid to-do list, to thinking about why you’re resisting that task and how to best use the time spent NOT doing what’s in front of you.

Here’s a few tips to keep in mind next time you feel the workload start piling up.

Flesh it out

Procrastination is defined as delaying an activity for later but could easily be reframed as an intentional delay rather than a lazy one. In many instances, waiting can improve the idea or the execution. Think about it like this: when you want to make a tough steak tender, you marinate it longer. This is often true of ideas. Maybe you’ve got a great concept but need just a bit more time to flesh it out.  It’s doubtful any manager would argue with taking time to think things through versus submitting something half-baked just to hit a deadline.

Give your brain a break

Although your workday may start at 8:30am, chances are you’ve already been troubleshooting, strategizing and mitigating just on your commute alone. By the time you arrive at the office you may need to give your left brain a break and tap into your creative side. Drawing can be a good break. Adult coloring books are all the rage but may not make the best impression when HR walks by. Instead, use a tool like the Bamboo Spark smart notebook to sketch or take notes of what pops into your head as you’re doodling. You can save your ideas in case you want to return to them later. You never know when a seemingly silly sketch turns into the next big idea.

Clear your mental space

Take advantage of your mental “down time” to organize your thoughts. Part of organizing is discarding or re-prioritizing thoughts, tasks or ideas. We often mistake urgency for importance so get out your pen and paper, create an Eisenhower Decision Matrix to re-organize your mental space. Stop giving brain power to the items that are not urgent, not important or both.


Rarely is the source of procrastination just laziness (or an imminent vacation). Think about why you’re procrastinating: is the task something that would benefit from collaboration and inviting colleagues to help?  Do you disagree with the goal of the assignment or find it unnecessary? Perhaps the project doesn’t warrant the urgency and needs to be reprioritized. Whatever the reason, taking the time to recognize why you may be resisting the task can bring some clarity and even become a jumping off point for a larger conversation with your team or your manager.

So next time you’re facing that daunting project, go with the procrastination flow. Don’t add stress by feeling bad about time spent wandering the halls, use the time to your advantage for better work in the near future.

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