Productive Procrastination. Really?
I was recently reading the latest issue of one of my favorite parenting newsletters, Parenting Press, when I ran across an article about how “useful” procrastination can be. This notion is amazing to me because when I procrastinate I usually feel unproductive and behind schedule. So, out of curiosity, I decided to read further. The article goes on to explain how procrastination can actually help us get more things done and concludes with an explanation of how using this notion can actually be beneficial when parents are trying to get children to do important tasks like studying. Are you intrigued yet? If so, read the following reprint of the article brought to you by ParentingPress.com.
The Value of Procrastinating (Really)*
OK to procrastinate? Hard to believe, but science says “yes.”
That’s because when we procrastinate, we’re usually doing something. Not what we should be doing, but something.
John Perry, a Stanford University philosopher, discussed this point in a book last year. As the New York Times science columnist, John Tierney, recently noted, “Dr. Perry was a typical self-hating procrastinator until it occurred to him in 1995 that he wasn’t entirely lazy. When he put off grading papers, he didn’t just sit around idly; he would sharpen pencils or work in the garden or play Ping-Pong with students.”
It’s Perry’s recommendation that you (and your kids) manage the tendancy to put off tasks by committing yourselves to more tasks. As Tierney wrote, “At the top of your to-do list, put a couple of daunting, if not impossible, tasks that are vaguely important-sounding (but really aren’t) and seem to have deadlines (but really don’t). Then, farther down the list, include some doable tasks that really matter.”
He quotes Perry: “Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list, With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.”
A Canadian psychologist, Piers Steel, referred to this as “productive procrastination” in his 2011 book, “The Procrastination Equation.” He says, “My best trick is to play my projects off against each other, procrastinating on one by working on another.”
How can you use this with children? Consider Perry’s to-do list concept, topping it with tasks that would be nice to have done but aren’t as urgent or important as what comes in the middle of the list: perhaps “Clean your room” as #1 and “Practice for Friday’s spelling test” as #2, with “Outline book report for next week” as #3.
(P.S. Wondering how much of a procrastinator YOU are? See https://procrastinus.com for a University of Calgary evaluation. The News for Parents editor took the quiz, and she’s proud to report that she was rated “fairly conscientious and self-disciplined.” She does, however, find Perry’s concept helpful, with “Brush dog” and “Screen compost” listed above “Feed dog,” “Walk dog,” and “Buy milk.”)
*Reprinted with permission from Parenting Press News for Parents, copyright 2013. For a complimentary subscription, see www.ParentingPress.com/signup.