It’s rare to hear any form of the word procrastinate without negative thoughts or commentary attached. In fact, there are plenty of motivational speakers and personal coaches out there who will tell you how awful it is. Thomas Jefferson certainly didn’t appreciate it, as he so famously proclaimed, “Never put off for tomorrow what you can do today.”
But what if procrastination isn’t necessarily a weakness? Or for that matter, what if it (or any other characteristic with a bad reputation) was actually something to embrace and appreciate as a strength? Would that open up a new world to you?
I have a friend who is a writer and public speaker. Lynne is a creative spirit – a big-picture thinker – whose job requires the constant meeting of deadlines. One day she shared with me her anxiety and worry over a big project that was due the following week.
“It’s just not coming to me,” she said. “I can’t seem to find the hook or angle for the story, and I’m freaking out!”
As we discussed her predicament, I asked her some key questions that revealed the following:
- Lynne has always been an Eleventh Hour (late in the day) kind of person.
- She routinely gets her best ideas at the last minute, seemingly out-of-the-blue and just in enough time to get things done.
- She rarely misses a deadline.
- She frequently tries to break the cycle of procrastination, only to spend days fretting over how she isn’t making progress.
So my question to her was simple. “Why are you fighting it?”
Lynne was silent. Or maybe stunned.
“What if you recognize and honor this work style as your strength?” I asked. “What if you take comfort in knowing you’ll get this project completed by the deadline, embrace who you are, and use this extra time of worry in a more productive way?”
I could practically see the light bulb in her head turn on. As we continued to talk through this new perspective, I started thinking about others who fight similar battles, like:
- An artist who clearly needs regular down time to dream, imagine and recharge, but continuously resists because it’s perceived as being “lazy,” or “unproductive.”
- A business owner who works 60-hour work weeks because it’s expected, even though exhaustion prevents him from true business growth.
- The corporate executive who regularly stresses out over high-profile presentations, even though historically she creates her best work extemporaneously and at the eleventh-hour.
There are always two ways to look at things: the way you’ve been told by others, and the way that makes more sense to you. Sometimes the simple act of embracing your “faults” and turning them into strengths can empower you in surprising ways.
As for procrastination, writer Hilary Mantel shares a perspective that might have made Thomas Jefferson squirm. “Imagination only comes when you privilege the subconscious, when you make delay and procrastination work for you.”
What do you think?
What qualities or habits do you resist, and how have you learned to make them a strength? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Please share your story.