The Power of Procrastination

'Procrastination cat will do it tomorrow' from Lolcat Research

‘Procrastination cat will do it tomorrow’ from Lolcat Research


Today we talk about the power of procrastination!  But wait – how could procrastination possibly be a good thing?  I’m so glad you asked!


All you ever hear is that procrastination means putting off important (but difficult) things and doing unimportant (but more fun) things instead.  Ecclesiastes says procrastination is for the idle: “If you wait until the wind and weather are just right, you will never plant anything, and never harvest anything.”


And that’s definitely true.  But procrastination – if applied in a useful way – is not all bad.  In fact, Dave Windass (of the TED talk “The Power of Procrastination” argues that procrastination is actually the key to being MORE productive, if used *in the right dosage*.

After all, says Dave, Hemingway said that you should always stop writing when there is something left in the well, so that the well will fill up again, and you’ll be able to write again later.


Procrastination is very close to the incubation theory we’ve been talking about (see previous posts).  HERE’S HOW…


But even if procrastination is not achieving true incubation, and you’re really just avoiding something you don’t want to do … why don’t you want to do it?  Sometimes we can procrastinate by doing really useful things – things that are far more meaningful to our lives and to the world.


Jorge Cham, who writes PhD Comics (, spent about 7 years in grad school making robots that behaved like cockroaches.  You could stomp on them and not squish them, because they were flexible and shock absorbing.  But he spent more time making the comic strip Piled Higher and Deeper than he did researching. And he felt more fulfilled by the comments he got – “You’re keeping me sane!” – than by the work he was doing.


In fact what Cham pointed out is that the problem with procrastination is guilt.  It has nothing to do with not having enough time to do your favourite things; it’s just that you’re doing them at a time when you feel guilty about doing them, because you feel guilty about not doing something that’s higher in priority on your to-do list.  Laziness is a close cousin to Procrastination, but they are vitally different.  “Laziness is when you don’t do anything.  Procrastination is when you don’t want to do it right now,” Cham said.


(To hear more from the master of PhD hilarity, watch his full speech, ‘The Power of Procrastination’:   Additional insights are available from Brittany Bynum, 2013, ‘Harnessing the power of procrastination’, Technician Online


  • Len Fisher, PhD, 2011, ‘The Power of Procrastination’ in the “Untangling Life’s Complexities” section in Psychology Today
    • Stanford philosopher John Perry has just won a spoof IgNobel Prize for his 1996 theory of “structured procrastination”.
    • “Perry suggests that we draw up a list of jobs in priority order, with the job at the top being one that seems terribly urgent, but actually isn’t.”
    • “Perry’s idea is that many procrastinators will actively pursue other jobs as a way of avoiding the one at the top. His original essay now forms the anchor for his website (appropriately called He admitted that there was a potential flaw with his idea, in that the job at the top never gets done, at least until a more important-seeming job comes along. So one answer is to search out such a job and put it at the top of the list. Another is to carefully choose the original top job as one that can be put off without damage.”
    • “To use Perry’s method effectively, you need to be the right sort of procrastinator. Psychologists Angela Chu and Jin Choi distinguish between two types—passive and active. Passive procrastinators are paralysed by their indecision and fail to complete tasks on time, or indeed at all. Active procrastinators, on the other hand (including myself), put jobs off until the pressure of a deadline is upon them because they find it more fruitful to work under pressure.
    • Perry’s method is designed for active procrastinators. But what sort of job should we put off? Perry suggests that we should put off the most important-seeming one. My own idea is to put off the one that looks as though it is going to be the most fun.”


  • Walter Chen, (co-founder of iDoneThis) “The power of structure procrastination” in ‘Energy / Fatigue’ in 99U: Insights on making ideas happen by Behance
    • The word itself “procrastination”, comes from the Latin pro “forward” and crastinus “tomorrow”.
    • “Here’s the move that goes against the grain: put that task on hold. Give in to your inclination to procrastinate.”
    • Just put the right task (as in, the wrong task) at the top of queue.
    • “You’re essentially tricking yourself into working while exercising doublethink regarding the priority level of any number of undertakings. That’s not a problem, though, because it turns out that procrastinators are usually great self-deceivers. Our naturally skillful mind-bending is what gets us into trouble in the first place as we convince ourselves to mix up our short-term and long-term goals.”



This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2013. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

One thought on “The Power of Procrastination

  1. Pingback: Best books and media I’ve found in 2016 so far | TJ Withers-Ryan

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