There are countless articles out there telling you how to stop procrastinating and a hundred different techniques that claim to be able to instantly end your YouTube browsing ways. However, while some of these may work for you, it's important not to lose sight of one important point – procrastination isn't always bad for you and it can actually have a number of benefits. So how can procrastination possibly be a good thing? Are you actually helping yourself by watching Nyan Cat? Read on to find out...
Procrastination and Creativity
Have you ever heard the term – 'sleep on it'? The idea is that when you've got a difficult problem to mull over or a big decision to make, it is often a good idea to take a step back, take some time out and actually go to sleep for a bit in order to come up with the most useful answer at the end of it. Sometimes we can get too 'close' to a problem – too emotionally invested and too tired to come up with a solution. Unfortunately you can't really just take a nap in the middle of work, so what can you do? That's right: take a moment out to do something different for a bit and let your mind wander. Often you'll find it's actually when you're not focussed on the issue that the answer comes to mind.
Meanwhile procrastination will often involve taking in new information, even if it is seemingly irrelevant. Nyan Cat is not a cultural masterpiece but it is colourful, amusing and distracting and this can help you to shift your brain into another gear. And when you're browsing the news or Wired.com, you might just find you discover something directly relevant and useful to your work that gives you the inspiration you needed.
People Need to Take a Break
Another important thing to consider with regards to procrastinating is that it can give you a break from your work which is actually a good thing. Working for too long on a single job can not only cause health problems (eye strain, backache, tiredness, stress, reduced metabolism... you name it!) but it can also eventually impact on the quality of your work. When you find yourself becoming ever more distracted it might just be your brain's way of telling you that you need to take a time out and that you are starting to slow down. Forcing yourself to completely eradicate all procrastination then could result in your becoming very stressed and spaced out and producing a low quality of work.
So What's the Problem?
So if procrastination is so useful, why do so many people hate it? Well the problem isn't really procrastination itself, but rather something that we call the 'flow state'. The 'flow state' is used in business to describe the state of mind where you are singularly focussed on a single task and able to concentrate for long periods of time as a result. This is great news for productivity and something that lots of people strive to achieve and control.
Unfortunately though, the flow state isn't all good news. The problem is that flow can also apply, much more easily in fact, to reading the web or watching YouTube videos. This then means that you can end up falling down 'the rabbit hole' and not realising how much time has passed as you trawl through videos and articles only to 'wake' later having accomplished nothing.
The solution then is to allow yourself to procrastinate but to make sure that you don't end up getting into a 'flow state' with it. In other words, take a time out to procrastinate for ten minutes and set an alarm, or ask a colleague to remind you when those ten minutes are up. Better yet, procrastinate with something that has a finite end and that can't hold your attention for too long. Playing minesweeper once is one acceptable way to kill ten minutes, as is having a little go at something like 'desktop snooker'. The reason these 'executive toys' are so good is that they give your eyes, hands and brain a break from work, but don't 'suck you in' the same way that the web does.
A Final Word
The take-home message here then is that procrastination isn't bad news as long as you treat it correctly. In other words, if you can prevent yourself getting into a flow, then there's no reason not to take five minutes out from time to time when you brain demands it.
And in fact, as soon as you realise that this is okay, you'll find that you can much more easily focus on your tasks. One of the big problems with procrastination is that we always want to do things that are forbidden. Once you're allowed to check Facebook from time to time... well then who cares?