When Procrastination is a Good Idea

Keeping an eye on the clock: Deadlines can send us into a spiraling state of panic.
Keeping an eye on the clock: Deadlines can send us into a spiraling state of panic.

During the semester we have to devise a study plan, go to lectures, prepare for exams and complete term papers.  Anyone who doesn’t take responsibility for themselves is going to lose out.  At school, the responsibility for time management lies with the school rectorate, while at university we are left to fend for ourselves.  And that means: self-organization.

The general consensus is that anyone who loves deadlines is simply a bit strange. In some cases it is simply the necessary discipline that is missing. Some people can get through even when they are not disciplined but the results are never going to be great and ‘scribes’, as they are lovingly known, rarely get good grades. This opinion seems to be based on a wealth of experience. But can it really be the case that only well-organized people are able to study successfully? Or is it a mistake to try to categorize us like this?

Successful People Begin Work Early and Finish it Late

Adam Grant, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, was proud of the fact that he completed his master’s thesis four months before the deadline. But that feeling changed when he conducted a study on this topic after a fellow student said she was much more creative when she put things off for as long as possible. The result: Those who complete everything as early as possible are less creative than their colleagues who postpone things. However, that only applies if they aren’t in a state of last minute panic. Those who work right up to the deadline are not particularly creative. Grant believes that successful, creative people begin work early but finish it late. They use the time between starting and finishing a project to think about their work and to develop new ideas.

Generally Speaking, Everyone is Capable of Putting off Important Tasks

But the sprint to the finish line doesn't have to be a completely unprepared mess.
But the sprint to the finish line doesn’t have to be a completely unprepared mess.

The best thing about this is: Anyone can take advantage of this knowledge. According to Tim Urban, blogger for Wait But Why, we are all procrastinators, but some more so than others. While some of our future goals are subject to deadlines (for example handing in term papers), we also have other goals that don’t have deadlines (for example a private reading about a seminar topic). Although putting things of on a regular basis right up to the deadline can cause panic, which generally results in you completing the task as quickly as possible, any tasks that don’t have a deadline can be completed without panic. So, generally speaking, everyone is at danger of procrastination.

So it seems that the sensible thing would be for students to divide tasks into two categories: those that have a deadline, and those that don’t. Any tasks in the second category require special attention because they don’t cause panic and thus tend to be forgotten. Grant’s method is useful if you want to complete all tasks as creatively or with as much originality as possible: begin early but finish late. It might at least be worth a try.

Don’t put off taking a look at Grant’s and Urban’s enlightening and funny talks on the subject.


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