When I was in 7th grade, the night before the middle school art show deadline, I got out my paper, pencils, an encyclopedia, and spread out across the living room floor to watch TV with my parents while I drew a hummingbird in flight. I hadn’t been able to decide what to draw up to that point…and at the last minute, I decided to use my mother’s favorite animal as inspiration. The urgency at that late hour, along with wanting mom to like it, fueled some creativity that pushed me beyond cars, airplanes, super heroes, and robots…the usual subject matter of a 12 year old boy. My mom still admonished me, “You always wait until the last minute!”
The night we went to the awards presentation, I sat with my friends as they handed out awards. Everyone thought Chad, Bo, or Jay would win Best of Show. It was stunned silence when they called my name! It turns out that the judge, the high school art teacher, was a middle-aged mother, like mine.
I come by procrastination as part of my DNA I guess. My mom isn’t a procrastinator. She’s a worrier. My dad was the ultimate “unstressed” guy. He didn’t worry about a thing. Life happened. He was just here to sleep in his recliner or piddle in his garden. I’m a weird hybrid of unstressed, last-minute perfectionism.
I find my time filling up beyond capacity and old brainstorms, ideas, and complaints whither up and die without me having touched them so that I focus on exactly what needs to be done when it needs to be done. Which means I tend to get a lot of high-priority, high-impact things done because I don’t sweat the small stuff.
If everyone were a procrastinator, life might end as we know it. But procrastinators serve a special place within humanity. We do things at the right time, with the right info, in the right way. Because we’ve waited until it becomes absolutely necessary to do something. Procrastinators don’t chase very many rabbits which saves time and resources. They ignore problems that tend to solve themselves organically without interference throwing the best solution off track.
My mom has come around. Now she says, “You always do your best work at the last minute. And it always turns out.”
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Let little problems sort themselves out. You don’t have to be everything to everyone. Just be aware that little problems can turn into big ones, so learn to discern.
- Let problems “stew” in your brain as long as possible. Metacognition is key. Your subconscious thoughts and your conscious mind begin to meld together possible solutions as new data flows in from the environment. But don’t try to assimilate everything. Let big ideas move themselves forward. Jot on sticky notes, notepads, your phone, but let thoughts that are fleeting or no longer “spark” your brain disappear into the ether.
- Choose the right moment to scramble. This is an art and missing the right start time leads to disaster…so err on the side of caution. The night before something is due could be wise. The hour before something is due is probably dumb.
So if you’re a procrastinator, stand tall. Your procrastinating saves time, effort, and can produce the best result if you go about it in the right way. Procrastination mixed with a little anxiety can produce innovation. I will rehash one of my favorite quotes:
“Wisdom is squeezed out of someone who is standing on the edge of the cliff and is struggling to survive.” –Kobayashi