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Procrastination: Avoidance or Productive Distraction?

Updated: Jul 30, 2023

I recently read Rick Rubin’s book called The Creative Act. It was a reminder of how much technology has not only changed society but me personally. We’ve forgotten how to be ok with imperfection – and that there’s beauty and humanity in it. Think about the blurry photos we took or the scratchiness in between songs on vinyl. They weren’t perfect but they bring us back to a time and place. Now, we have Google Magic Eraser and wav files. I wonder how many future inspirations will be erased along the way.

But I’ve veered off track. One of the key takeaways from Rubin’s book was the importance of procrastination in the creative process. Have I been wrong all along? Can procrastination be a good thing? The idea is that “distraction is not procrastination” and, there can be “productive distraction”. A place and time where we connect with the outside world and find inspiration.

So I thought more about the idea of “Productive Distractions”

I have a lot of clients come to me looking for help with their avoidance or procrastination. It’s long been viewed as a negative trait or a fancy way of saying they’re lazy and inefficient – just read my Fact Sheet on the subject. However, what if procrastination can actually have benefits? In this blog post, we will explore the surprising advantages of procrastination and how it can be harnessed to enhance creativity, productivity, and overall well-being.

Understanding Procrastination

To begin, let’s look deeper at procrastination itself. Procrastination is the act of avoiding tasks or decisions. It can be frustrating for both the procrastinator and those around them and often involves choosing unproductive activities instead of important or urgent ones.

Procrastination as part a Creative Process

As Rubin covers, one of the benefits of productive distractions is its ability to enhance creativity. When we put off a task for later, our subconscious mind continues to work on it in the background. This process is known as “incubation.” By allowing our ideas to simmer over time, we give our minds an opportunity to make unique connections and generate innovative solutions. Often, these sudden bursts of creativity occur when we are engaged in unrelated activities during moments of procrastination.

Improved Decision-Making

Procrastination can also lead to improved decision-making. When faced with complex choices or dilemmas, taking some time away from the immediate pressure allows for more objective analysis and reflection. By stepping back and giving ourselves space to think, we can gain fresh perspectives and consider alternative viewpoints more effectively. This ultimately leads to better-informed decisions and minimises the chances of making impulsive or ill-considered choices. So, if stepping away from the problem for a beat BUT coming back with a solution is part of your process, you’re likely doing procrastination right.

Reduced Stress Levels

Contrary to popular belief, procrastination can actually reduce stress levels in certain situations. Constantly working on multiple tasks without breaks or relaxation can quickly lead to burnout. By allowing ourselves to procrastinate in a healthy manner, we give our minds and bodies a chance to rest and recharge. This break from the pressures of deadlines and responsibilities can significantly reduce stress levels and improve overall well-being.

Enhanced Productivity

Believe it or not, procrastination can also enhance productivity when utilised effectively. By strategically delaying tasks, we create a sense of urgency that can fuel motivation and focus. This is commonly known as “productive procrastination.” When we have limited time to complete a task, our brains tend to prioritise and work efficiently, resulting in higher productivity levels. However, it is crucial to strike a balance between productive procrastination and outright avoidance.

Strengthened Problem-Solving Skills

Procrastination can offer an opportunity for enhancing problem-solving skills. When faced with challenging problems or complex projects, taking breaks from direct engagement allows us to subconsciously analyse the issues at hand. Stepping away temporarily from the task gives us perspective and often leads to breakthrough moments where solutions become clearer. Procrastination acts as a breather that refreshes our minds for better problem-solving outcomes.

Learning More About Yourself

Embracing procrastination provides an opportunity for self-reflection and self-discovery. When we avoid tasks or delay important decisions, it often reveals deeper insights into our fears, motivations, and priorities. By examining why we are procrastinating on specific tasks, we gain valuable self-awareness and the chance to address underlying issues that may be holding us back.

Cultivating Work-Life Balance

Procrastination can play a role in cultivating a healthy work-life balance. Allowing ourselves scheduled periods of relaxation or play time helps prevent burnout and improves overall productivity when we do engage in focused work. Procrastinating purposefully and setting boundaries allows us to enjoy personal time without guilt, resulting in a more fulfilling and balanced life.

Developing Time Management Skills

While it may seem a contradiction, procrastination can actually help develop effective time management skills. When we procrastinate, we are forced to evaluate priorities and deadlines more critically. By deciding what tasks can be delayed or delegated, we become better at managing our time and allocating resources efficiently. This skill becomes increasingly valuable as we progress in both our personal and professional lives.

So think about how you’re doing procrastination. Is it avoidance with no positive outcome or a step toward achieving great things? Procrastination with context doesn’t have to be a negative force. By understanding its benefits and leveraging them effectively, you can transform procrastination into a powerful tool for enhanced creativity, improved decision-making, reduced stress levels, increased productivity, strengthened problem-solving skills, self-discovery, work-life balance cultivation, and honing time management skills.

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. After all, at the core of Strategic Psychotherapy is the idea of bringing your skills and talents to the problem space. That the problem and solution are two sides of the same coin. It comes down to how you’re doing avoidance, and what comes out the other side. If it’s part of a productive process, great, however, if it's holding you back, we can work together to find a way to improve and succeed.

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