Procrastinate Strategically

Someone asked me, after I'd just finished giving a talk on productivity, the following question:

Do you ever procrastinate?

I'm sure he expected me to respond with some declaration that I never procrastinate because most people assume that the person on stage is far better than they actually are. But I think my answer surprised him.

Sure I procrastinate. But I do it strategically.

You'll understand immediately what I mean if I explain it by way of an example.

Today I'm in Las Vegas. I spoke at an event last night, and will do so again at a different event this weekend.

When I'm done, I'll fly home. Some time on Sunday.

But do I know the details of my flight home, right now? No. Why should I know the details of my flight home when that doesn't happen for several days?

Sure, I need to find out. Preferably before I have to go to the airport.

But I don't need to know now.

I can delay finding out the details until the last possible moment (Saturday night).

Now that's a simple example and not that big of a deal. But let's talk about another one you've likely experienced yourself.

Communication Procrastination

Ever get an email from a vendor that you don't know, introducing themselves and wanting to schedule a call? I hope you don't reply, but I know friends who do. They are nice like that. Me? I ignore the email.

And then sometimes they call me. And I don't return that call right away. Because I have no idea if they're a legit company or not.

You know what? The legit ones often email and call a second time.

And those folks are the ones I look at. Because they have persistence. They passed the test, if you will.

Let's see if this one rings true.

Ever have a family member call you and leave you a message (urgent-ish) to call them back? But it's the family member that always wants to borrow some money? You know what they're calling about, don't you?

What if you wait a few days (or weeks, as Steve Harvey jokes about), before calling them back?

Maybe procrastinating might save you some time, money, and heartache.

You can procrastinate strategically too!

My favorite way to procrastinate is to not solve problems that don't need to be solved right away. In that way, I give time some chance of solving the problem for me.

Have you ever had a technology problem that felt frustrating, until you found out (months later) that some solution popped up to handle that problem?

Here's how it works for me.

  • Study the problem.
  • Determine if it truly is urgent.
  • If it's not, let it wait a bit.
  • Determine, later, if it's still important.
  • If it's not, ignore it.
  • If it is, then do it.

I can't tell you the number of times I've held back from complicated solutions only to discover that in the mean time, while we all got smarter and technology got cheaper, something appeared that was better, faster and cheaper than I could have ever imagined.

I can't tell you the number of times that the extra pause has also highlighted that something wasn't nearly as important as I initially assumed.

It's not about No. It's about Not Yet.

I say no a lot. It's what lets me say yes to other things. But this isn't about saying no. It's about saying “not yet.”

You don't have to solve every single problem in the order it arrives. Some problems are worth waiting a bit to try to solve.

And that's what I mean by procrastinating strategically.