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Procrastination Might Be Good Afterall

By Guan Tan

Felicia Yap

"Is the procrastination article done?", my editor sent me a text. I was supposed to write this two weeks ago. "I'll write it next week," I told him. "I hope the irony is not lost on you," he replied. 

Much has been said about procrastination. It is such a prevalent issue that psychological research, and studies have been done on this subject matter. As a matter of fact, there is even a conference for it – the 10th Procrastination Research Conference took place last year. Basically, people come together to talk about procrastination. It hasn't been postponed or cancelled before – I checked. 

Procrastination is defined as the voluntary avoidance of tasks. On its underbelly, procrastination cues at a lack of self-discipline. It is the lack of it that Nike has built its entire "Just Do It" slogan around. 

Coincidentally, I've inadvertently found myself in many Nike stores, bewitched by the "Just Do It" emblazoned T-shirts. "Yes, I'll just do it and go for a run tonight." I grab one and, half an hour later, throw it into my wardrobe. Needless to say, I always feel emptier than the promises I made myself whenever I open my wardrobe to find an ever-growing collection of "Just Do It" T-shirts staring back at me. 

The issue, I suspect, is that procrastination cannot actually be solved in an instant. Neither can a one-off episode of "Just Do It". 

I tried to get to the root of the problem and turned to a self-help book for procrastinators titled "Awaken Your Strongest Self". According to the author Neil Fiore, first comes the diagnosis – what is your procrastination personality?

There are five procrastination personalities: the perfectionist, imposter, dread-filled, overwhelmed, and the lucky one. The perfectionist fears mistakes, so he deters his tasks. The imposter fears he might not please others, so he puts away what needs to be done. The dread-filled doesn't enjoy what he does and is unmotivated for that reason. The overwhelmed feels daunted by his to-do list and ends up getting nothing done. The lucky one believes in the pressures of last-minute work.

It seems throughout the years I've amassed numerous personalities: a temperamental Aries, an INTJ, and now a lucky procrastinator.

And like most personality tests, you'll realise there are weaknesses and strengths. The weaknesses are obvious – rushing through the work and high stress and pressure. Yet, the "last-minute" person thrives on this exact type of pressure. It's not a fleeting excuse, it's legitimate. There are psychology theories backing your friends and colleagues' nonchalant "I work best last-minute" claims. In times of stress, the human mind is more engaged, innovative and attentive. A healthy amount of stress switches the brain on and work performance peaks. 

In university, I was part of a study group. There was that one guy who always crammed his essays and thesis in four to five hours. One night we had a conversation and he said it wasn't bad time management. He intentionally left his work to the last-minute. Of course, some diligent students were offended and thought he was arrogant. Yet, that last-minute fella was always the top scorer.

Maybe there actually isn't anything too bad about procrastination. Maybe procrastination can, in fact, do us good. 

But definitely not me, a lucky procrastinator with a running problem. Procrastination comes in handy only when there's a task at hand, say an absolute deadline like 2 PM on Wednesday. There's never a cut-off point for a jog around the block. The only thing that could potentially spur would be an epic health scare. Till then, I'll continue amassing an impressive heap of Nike T-shirts. 

Footnote: My editor took another two weeks to edit and publish this. And no, the irony is not lost on him either – I checked.