Procrastination – Good or Bad

One of my students recently asked me whether procrastination was good or bad. Being a writer, it wasn’t difficult to explain.

ProcrastinateFirst of all, what is procrastination? Simply defined, it is putting things off because we either do not want to do them, or because we have too many things to do.  Don’t be afraid when you hear of procrastination being described as a “disorder” or a “psychological dysfunction”, because when writers procrastinate (anyone can procrastinate, not just writers), it’s nothing serious. You are simply putting off your writing assignments for later.

Why are you doing this? Well, the reasons may be many. Like we said above, you either do not want to do them (for reasons like – you are afraid of not doing them well, you do not like the assignments, you do not have the right environment, you think you work better under pressure, you have writer’s block, or you’re simply too lazy); or you have too many things to do and prefer to get the other things done before you sit down to write. We’ll discuss how to cure procrastination in a later post. Let’s just talk about whether it’s good or bad.

Well, it can be either good or bad depending on the situation and how you look at it.

It can be good if

  • It is due to lack of ideas and procrastinating gives you time to get over your block.
  • Doing something interesting first gives you inspiration for writing.
  • You are under stress or going through a bad phase, so putting the writing off for when you’re feeling better will produce better results.

It is bad when

  • Putting off your writing assignments for the last moment produces bad results.
  • You do not have time to review or proofread, thus ending up with error-filled writing.
  • You are not able to meet your deadlines.
  • Not meeting your deadlines results in bad reputation.

 

So, what do you think? Is procrastination good or bad? Why?

 

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10 Responses

  1. I think it’s good in small doses. There’s a point when procrastination turns into irresponsibility. As long as you DO get your jobs done, it’s fine.

  2. When it comes to writing, I feel procrastination is usually bad, and it likely goes hand-in-hand with writer’s block.

    Let’s face it: on some days, that blank “sheet of paper” can be pretty intimidating. But the best way I’ve found to deal with that issue is to make writing a regular routine. Then my brain, imagination, and ‘inner muse’ are all in the habit of being active at the same time every day, and the words flow as easily as tears from the eyes of an onion-chopper.

    Hmmm. Maybe that wasn’t the best description…but it’s better to write SOMETHING than to fool around procrastinating. The writer who’s got something down can always go back and edit later! But the procrastinator – well, they’re busy doing something other than writing, and it’s likely they’re not standing in the bookstore admiring how their new novel looks on the shelf.

    Best,
    Kevin

    http://kevingooden.com/writing

    • Yes, Kevin, you’re right. Making writing a daily routine is the best way to deal with situations like procrastination and writer’s block. But the will to sit down and write should also be there – and if the will was there, they wouldn’t be procrastinating anyway. Confusing, isn’t it?
      Btw, I like your description of words flowing “as easily as tears from the eyes of an onion-chopper”. Very apt.

  3. Rather than thinking of procrastination as good or bad, I like to think of it as something to investigate. Procrastination happens for different reasons and it helps me to look at what is actually going on with me when I want to put something off.

    A regular schedule for writing (or other creative activities) can be a good thing, but I also think there are days when it’s helpful to listen to the desire to put something off. There are days when something isn’t ready to happen and if you force yourself it can backfire and lead to frustration and feeling discouraged. Sometimes leaving something completely for a day or two allows it to percolate inside. All of the creating doesn’t happen when we are actually sitting there writing, but goes on all day and in our sleep. I often find a project unfolds in its own time.

    I recently wrote a post about this comparing the art of picking fruit when it’s ripe with creativity — http://www.meditationoasis.com/2009/08/03/blackberry-picking-and-lessons-on-creativity/

    • You’re right, Mary. Procrastination must have a reason. Why do we put things off? I’m doing some research on this and will write a post on it just as soon as as I have enough information.

      You’re also right when you say that sometimes it’s good that we leave things for a day or two. This is why I believe that a little procrastination is good. But the problem arises when we have deadlines. How do we deal with such a situation then?

  4. Like you and others said a little procrastination can be good. If I didn’t procrastinate a little, my kitchen would never get cleaned.

    Chronic procratination, however, needs to be attended to. If a student writer is not doing an assignment until the last minute and wants to be a writer they want to take a closer look at motives. They may want to challenge their motives.

    To the students who loves the written word and are developing writers: You might be employing a ploy of doing things at the last minute to save yourself from an honest evaluation of your talents. This seems more common in highly creative and talented people in my experience.

    You see, if you do your assignment hours before it’s do, you can say “it would have been better if I had more time.” This is true enough. How much better you don’t know. What happens if you put in your full effort and it’s heavily critiqued?

    I encourage you to give something your best shot. You will find that a critique of your best work is more helpful than painful. You will improve as a writer, that’s my guess.

  5. Some excellent discussions on this topic. Mary’s point about there being certain days when it seems better to put things off is understandable. I’ve certainly had days on any particular large writing project when the words come out about as easy as wisdom teeth; I suspect these are the types of days when any writer might decide it would be time better spent to tackle that kitchen clean-up project!

    However, returning to my point about having a regular writing schedule, one way I’ve found to keep that habit up, while still dealing with the issue of a problematic WIP, is to always have more than one project on the go. Have one ‘main’ project that is getting the bulk of the writing time, but also one or two ‘back-up’ projects to turn to when the main one just isn’t cooperating (sounds a bit strange, when it all comes from your head…). I also find it helpful to make the ‘back-up’ project(s) a very different type of writing than the main. This is likely effective for me because it allows for ‘creative recharge’ on the main project.

    Procrastination when a deadline is looming. Hoo boy, isn’t that the worst! Have you ever done this to yourself? I have! I’m not sure why. Adrenaline rush? The writer’s equivalent to driving a high-powered sports car? Or running with the bulls? I don’t think I’ve ever done it in order to give myself an excuse, but ProNagger has an insightful observation there, for sure.

  6. Yes, Kevin. Having more than one project at a time works. I, too, follow this very effective method.

    After going through all the discussions, I guess it all comes down to this – you can’t really say whether procrastination is good or bad. It all depends on why we are procrastinating.

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