Productivity – Why losing focus might not be such a bad thing

So… I wrote this in A+E.

(Bouncy castle… long story)

Losing productivity

(It started so well…)


Fully aware of the overwhelmingly bad press surrounding procrastination, I figured I couldn’t in good conscience throw facts and figures into the stratosphere without first checking them out for myself.

And I’d never officially have a better excuse reason to put something off, right?

After having left the final draft as long as I feasibly could to test its claims yet still hit my deadline, I thought I was on course. What I hadn’t done, was factor in a lengthy bump in the final home stretch.  That bump did, however, serve to cement the findings.

Now I’m pleased to be able to say with absolute confidence, after one trip to casualty, a fight with a vending machine and a mad dash to find a charger, that procrastination can indeed be a positive thing.

Of course, had I managed to open my packet of Skittles – or pushed the right button to get the KitKat out in the first place – the outcome may have been slightly different.

No, I don’t know how to half-ass anything.

slothilda animation cute fail cartoon

So, procrastination… good or bad?

With twenty percent of us identifying as chronic procrastinators, the dusty corners of the interweb are, perhaps unsurprisingly, packed full to the brim with suggestions of ways to combat the problem.

Hell, we’ve even added to them ourselves.  Procrastination is regularly reviled as the shady guy only too keen to give everything from psychology to economy, a battering on his way through town. There is little wonder the detrimental effects take centre stage.

But while there’s no doubt of the proven potential for negative impact, procrastination in the workplace can in fact also prove to be a pretty nifty tool. Not only in promoting and nurturing creativity, but ultimately in encouraging innovation, productivity and consequently, long-term success to boot.

mtv daria procrastination procrastinating 90s


Why do we procrastinate?

“… it is the most basic impulse”

George Ainslie, behavioural economist

Blame Biology for this one.  With an automatic limbic system constantly on the lookout to get us a quick thumbs up, and a prefrontal cortex needing a conscious kick up the arse to get into gear, we’re pretty much hardwired to put things off.

The key to success…?

“… is how to procrastinate well”

– Paul Graham, investor, entrepreneur, all-round authority
on making the shady guy work for you (check out more of his thoughts here)

An unorthodox approach?  Maybe.  But he’s certainly not alone in extolling its virtues.

Positive procrastination

Leading the pro charge, and not to mention nearly every scrap of positive information I could find on the matter, stands Adam Grant – renowned Wharton Professor and one of the top business bods on the planet.

Oh yeah, he was an Olympic diver too. Not as hardcore as bouncy-castling mind, but still pretty damn impressive.

A self-confessed pre-crastinator (it’s a thing, I checked), Grant managed to prove that jumping straight into a task, or conversely delaying it, can both prove equally detrimental to output.

The key, he attests, is in the balance.  So moderate procrastination?  That right there’s your go-to-guy.

“…moderate procrastinators are 16% more creative than the other two groups…”


If you get distracted while reading this, you can see the full video here.

(We’ve got more awesome TED talks here, BTW.)

Grant’s notion might seem absurd at face value, in an industry that thrives on the idea of harder, better, faster, stronger*. Every startup ultimately wants top billing, right?  But as he points out: “Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps”.

(*yes I did)

In other words, sometimes the only way forward is to take a step back

Strategic procrastination affords the opportunity to look outside a box you might otherwise have already sealed, by jumping right in with only the narrowest selection of ideas to rifle through.

Russian research, notably the Zeigarnik Effect, further throws weight behind this premise. It suggests that we only stop mulling over a task once it’s completed.

Until then?  Gym, shower, doughnut run, Skittles packet battle, all afford the cogs a chance to turn that little bit more, and perhaps more importantly, that little bit further afield.  Far from hindering productivity, yielding to distraction can very much stake its claim as a virtue.

Need an example?  How about Jobs and Wozniak.  No need to tell you how that story went.

Or Woody, Buzz and the Toy Story gang?  A dream twenty years and “tens of thousands of ideas” in the making, according to Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull (check out more of his genius here).

George Akerlof, Leonardo Da Vinci, Martin Luther King….  You get the idea.

So, losing focus in the workplace?

Whether active procrastinator by default, or simply one of life’s ‘dreamers’, rest assured procrastination isn’t always the bad guy it’s made out to be. When done correctly, of course. With great procrastination comes great responsibility for coffee, and all that.

As for the Skittles….  Had a two foot high human not delighted in my inability to GET THIS BLOODY THING OPEN, I’d never have noticed the soft toy on the chair and remembered reading the Pixar piece.

As for bouncy castles… what can I say?


Losing focus

One Response

  1.' Boost Your Confidence May 12, 2016

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