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Procrastination: Friend or Foe?

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One advertising teacher had told me there was a word for people who were addicted to deadlines, and the adrenaline that last minute rush created. I’ve not forgotten the definition. Yes, I was pretty guilty of it when I heard the word.

The easier a subject was to study, the more I procrastinated. Oh, I procrastinated for the subjects that were hard for me too- I just did it a little less and gave myself a little more time.

For some reason, I just couldn’t focus or worry enough until 2-3 days were left before the exam. And if I thought I could pull it off, I’ve been known to start studying as late as in the morning of the exam!

Of course I made exceptions for term projects, theses, grades I needed to improve and while I was studying to get into university.

I’m much more professional and careful now. I take my assignment deadlines very seriously, and start the project almost as soon as I accept it. I also make sure I finish it a couple of days before the deadline so that I am ready for last minute problems.

And although my sense of professionalism has made me procrastinate less, it hasn’t eliminated it completely. Let’s take my first novel for instance.

Since it is my first, I don’t have an editor/publisher pressuring me to finish 5 chapters in 2 weeks or something. It is not that I don’t try to write as much as I can whenever I can. But when I get stuck with a scene, I let myself suffer from the writer blues, and sometimes it is hard to take back the inspiration I need for fiction.

Then there are the blogs I run, but I don’t publish as often as I’d like to because in between gigs, other marketing efforts, market research, and trying to squeeze in a novel, I sometimes lose more time when resting than I intend to.

But is procrastination purely evil? Or is it a necessary tool for innovation? Does it always make our lives worse? Or does it really help with productivity and creativity?

The two posts I read on it made me wonder. The first one was Melanie Brook’s article on Freelance Switch “The Pull of Procrastination”, and the second one was the article that inspired Melanie’s post “Procrastination Is Essential to Innovation” on Harvard Business Review, written by Whitney Johnson.

I was amazed at how successful Melanie was at not procrastinating, and I did relate with Johnson’s tendency to delay things she wasn’t familiar with – even though she needed to do them to promote the thing she was familiar with-her book.

Both Melanie and Whitney seem to agree on the fact that a little anxiety about an approaching deadline might be necessary. Desirable even. But too much of it is bound to decrease productivity and innovation.

I agree. Below is a list of when I find procrastination a friend or a foe.

It’s a friend when:

  • It really makes you get off your butt. Yes, ideally we’d all start doing something about dreams and goals right here and right now. But this is where the saying “better late than never” comes in. Starting and rushing to finish is better than not finishing at all. But of course this goes more for first drafts you write for yourself and not for your clients.


  • It gives you adrenaline that was missing for a long time. I don’t know about you, but some adrenaline does fuel my productivity, speed of learning and creativity. I remember promising to a friend that a story would  be ready at a certain time. Guess what? It worked. She got the story – and a good one – at the promised time.  I just didn’t want to disappoint a reader, no matter how hard and fast I had to work to get it done.

It feels great to find yourself reaching a productivity  level you never knew existed.

It’s a foe when:

  • It creates extra stress that you could probably do without. As freelancers (and/or writers) we are under enough pressure and stress already about running a one-person company, responsible for all the aspects of our business. And even if you are collaborating with others, it is a lot different from just being responsible from one or two tasks and leaving the rest up to your boss.


  • It messes up your schedule and other tasks.


  • It makes you enjoy the project less.


Bottom line?

It all depends on what you are procrastinating against and how you procrastinate. How much damage are you doing to your work? To your peace of mind? To your career?

Or are you using your procrastination for inspiration?

Just like most things in life, procrastination lies in a grey area, and it is up to you to pull it to the white zone, or let it drag you to the black.


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