Procrastinate for Greater Productivity


A lesson I learned long ago

In one of my first jobs post college, I worked at Berkeley National Lab – a government research lab. I worked with all sorts of geniuses and my mentor there was amazing. One of the most amazing lessons I learned from him was on a day we were walking by some of the offices of the hard core computer scientists.

We happened to walk by a guy I already had met months before. I knew he was brilliant, but I didn't know what he was working on. My mentor explained that he'd been funded for two years of research to see what would move data fastest over a particular kind of network.

As you can imagine, I wanted more details – what was he doing? Was he looking at hardware? Software? Network changes? And then my boss surprised me. He said the guy wasn't doing anything right now. Just hanging out in his office, browsing the internet. This was 1994 so there was a good chance he might have browsed the whole thing in a few days.

But it didn't sound intense. It didn't sound scientific. It didn't sound like he was working. And it clearly didn't sound like he was working hard.

That's why I got my lesson on productivity. My boss looked at me and said

“He's letting time do the work.”

This scientist was going to wait, according to my mentor, at least a year – maybe a bit more – before doing any serious research. Because over that time, a lot of things would change – so why not let time do the work? By that time, half the problem might be solved.

It won't surprise you that within a year networks had improved ten-fold already.

Procrastinate for Productivity

I know you may think I've lost my mind but you know you procrastinate already. So I'm not telling you something new. I'm just suggesting that there's a right way to do it.

Here's a silly but effective example from Steve Harvey (1:48).

But there are other situations where a little procrastination helps too. Let's look at a list:

  • In the WordPress world, why create your own plugin. Chances are someone else will do it in a matter of weeks.
  • In the business world, why be the first to reply to an email that has more than 3 people on the To: and cc: lines?
  • In product development, delaying point-to-point integrations can pay off when new APIs are created, making things easier.

It's the motivation that counts

If you're procrastinating because you have fear, we're already talking about two different things. But if you're delaying taking action because you believe other actions may create a new context for you later – then you've got this lesson down.

Obviously it doesn't work when you have a rushed deadline. But I'll often wait a bit before starting something new, just to see if my work has become easier with the passage of time.

A simple example is that I was planning to roll out several online courses on this site in early January. Then WooThemes announced a new learning management system for WordPress – but it wouldn't be out in December when I was planning on doing the work. So I delayed.

Now that I've run it thru it's paces, I think I'm going to go back to WP Courseware, but the point is that if they'd solved everything I wanted, pushing out the effort by a few weeks would have been a perfect example of procrastinating for better productivity.

What could you push off today, so that it would be easier in a few weeks time?