Everyone procrastinates. When there is work to be done, we will make every excuse imaginable not to do it. We will put it off and put it off until we have absolutely no choice but to bite the bullet and get it done.
The question is, is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so.
As a world-class procrastinator, I’ve come to three surprising revelations about this insidious phenomenon we’re all too familiar with.
Revelation #1: Procrastination is remarkably subjective
One guy’s $#*! work is another guy’s dream job. Take accounting, for example. Most small business owners can’t stand financial reporting. Not accountants. They absolutely live for the stuff.
I invoice and pay bills monthly, but that’s all I do until tax time. Everything with dollar signs goes into a single pile in my office. Every year, about a week before meeting with my tax accountant so he can make the April 15th deadline, I move the pile, which by now has become enormous, to my desk. And I stare at it.
I stare at the pile with dread, all the while fantasizing about shredding every single document while laughing hysterically like a lunatic in a horror movie.
Two days before the meeting, when I have absolutely no alternative, I sit down and start to sift through the pile. By the end of the first day, I’ve usually succeeded in organizing the pile into about sixteen smaller piles on the floor of my office.
The next day I take out my calculator, do a little math, make some notes, and place them on top of each pile. And so on.
It actually makes me physically ill to watch my accountant go through the piles and my notes. He looks like he’s salivating as he turns the pages with one hand and calculates with the other. Meanwhile I sit there like a death row prisoner awaiting my fate.
That may be just a bit overly dramatic, but you get the point.
Revelation #2: Some people procrastinate doing what they love to do
Here’s where this gets much, much stranger. Everyone puts off what they desperately hate doing and I’m no different. But get this: I also put off what I really love doing. There are so many things I can’t wait to do but, for some reason, never seem to get around to doing. I have no idea what this means. I guess it’s some bizarre form of reverse procrastination.
I know what you’re thinking, but this is not delayed gratification. That’s when you resist an immediate reward in favor of some greater reward down the road, like investing part of your paycheck instead of spending it all at once. I’m actually quite good about that, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
There are movies I’ve been dying to see but I wait months, sometimes years in anticipation. I cellar great wines, sometimes longer than I should, and anticipate what they might taste like. I always save the best part of whatever I’m eating for the last bite. And when I get to the end of a great book, I savor it and get depressed when I’m done.
It’s almost as if I enjoy the journey, the process, the anticipation of an outcome more than the reward itself because, once I get the reward, I know the journey is over. So I procrastinate.
If you have any insight into this phenomenon, please keep it to yourself. I’m sure there’s something very wrong with me and, to tell you the truth, I really don’t want to know.
Revelation #3: Procrastination is almost never the problem
I could be wrong, but I suspect people waste so much time reading about procrastination, time management and personal productivity because they’re procrastinating. Why else would they spend their precious life on minutiae like that when there are so many wonderful things to do?
The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with procrastinating as long as you do what matters: get the job done, meet your commitments and work toward accomplishing your long-term goals. If you do that, you’ll be fine, guaranteed.
If, on the other hand, you spend your life avoiding doing what matters, procrastination is not your problem. You’re either on the wrong path, have the wrong job, lack the drive, or something equally significant. And you’re just wasting time instead of dealing with what’s really wrong with your life. That’s not procrastination. That’s denial.
A version of this was originally published on entrepreneur.com; image credit Shutterstock.