03/19/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Mar 17, 2015

Why Procrastination Might Be Good For You

Do you just procrastinate or do you procrastinate at a high level? Notice the implied assumption that you do procrastinate! High performance procrastination is our goal here.

Last week, we addressed the challenges associated with to do lists crammed with incomplete items and the draining effect those incomplete items can have on your ability to be productive.

We encouraged you to create a list of all items that are not yet complete, including things being tracked on to do lists, but also reminders stuck in email in boxes, sticky notes on your desk, and even those items that just pop in your head during the day.

Over the years, I have worked with many people who keep transferring the same item from this week's list to next week's list ad nauseum. Even high powered list makers who distinguish types of goals, projects, and next actions can be procrastinators.

My recommendation is that you become world class at procrastinating. In fact, if you employ other people, I suggest that you include procrastination skills in your hiring and promotion criteria.

In order to make any sense out of this apparent non-sense I am spouting, we need to look at what the word procrastination actually means. gives us these common definitions:

v. intr.
To put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness

v. tr.
To postpone or delay needlessly

Am I suggesting that you should become careless or lazy, or that you should be looking for the careless and lazy in hiring people? Of course not.

So, play with me a little here: the word procrastination actually begins with something quite positive. The prefix, "pro," means "in favor of," or "for." So how does something that begins with a positive wind up with such a negative connotation?

If you further dissect the word, you come to the base meaning, the part that has "crastin" in it. So what does that mean? Actually, "crastin" comes from the Latin word, crastinus which means "tomorrow."

That leaves us with "ation." Does "ation" look like a common word slightly misspelled? Stick a "c" in there and you might find "action." The suffix "ion" or "ation" comes from Latin and means "requires action."

So, put all these parts together and what to you get? A word that means, literally, for tomorrow's action. Does that sound lazy or careless to you? Me neither.

In fact, this notion of procrastination can be enormously positive. If you are procrastinating at a high level, sort of "power procrastinating," you would be consciously thinking about what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and purposefully assigning certain tasks to a future date.

Not what we ordinarily mean, now is it?

Imagine being the employee (or the boss if you wish) in the following scenario. You're sitting at your desk, not doing anything that is apparent to the outside observer, and your boss walks in. Seeing you sitting there "doing nothing," she asks what's going on. You respond with an appropriate level of gravitas, "Why, I'm procrastinating, of course."

Should you get a raise or a pink slip?

In the current economy, we could use a whole lot more power procrastination. There's all kinds of "work" being done by people desperately trying to appear busy so they can hold on to their jobs. In fact, most of these people are actually getting things done.

The only problem is that all they are doing is getting things done. Not important things. Not meaningful things. Not things that will make a difference in any appreciable way. Just getting things done.

In fact, they may be world class list makers and thanks to the miracle of modern technology, can reproduce a list of the thousands of things they have gotten done over the last year. The only problem is that very little of what got done mattered in terms of producing something meaningful, productive, or in alignment with critical goals.

If you did the exercise we asked you to try last week, the incompletion trigger list, then you would have come up with a list several pages long of things that you have on your mind and in your lists that aren't yet done. We noted that each of those incomplete items represents a small bit or your energy that could be used to accomplish something meaningful, but right now is stuck in those various incomplete items.

The advice, however, is NOT to do everything on the list. Instead, the suggestion is to review each item on the list and procrastinate a bit about them. Then you can choose to do what's meaningful, not just what's in front of you.

How to Become a Power Procrastinator

1. Review each item on your list
2. What result, value or meaning will be accomplished if you get it done
3. How critical or important is that result, value or meaning (today vs. tomorrow)
4. For high value, high importance items, keep them on your current list or schedule them on your calendar
5. For low value, low importance items, either place them on a list labeled "Not for now, maybe later", or strike them off the list altogether
6. For high value, high importance items that require action downstream, but not now, you can schedule them out in time, or place them in a folder (paper or electronic) for some future date when you want to be reminded
7. Get to work accomplishing those high value, high importance items that have immediacy to them or are required to prepare the road for what's coming

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

You can buy Workarounds That Work here.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)