Ready. Set. Procrastinate?

We’ve all heard the same story time and time again, about the issue of procrastination. We hear it from teachers, regardless of subject or year, from employers, coworkers, parents, fellow all-nighters: procrastination is bad, addictive, and unwise. But if that is true, how are people able to perform in a crunch and, at times, do a remarkable job at the very last minute? A new book titled, “Wait: The Art and Science of Delay” by Frank Partnoy of the University of San Diego, attempts to overturn our verdict on procrastination and re-examines the actual results of procrastinating.

A recent article in The Economist discuses the book and other studies from John Hopkins University and argues that in actuality people make better decisions when they have longer to stab at problems. This translates into waiting to work on or finish projects until the last minute before the deadline. Partnoy argues that procrastination can lead to improved productivity and increased insight into the project (depending on the project).

They also emphasize that people who take longer to make decisions often make much more ethical decisions than those who make snap decisions. He uses the example of the financial services industry, where time is everything and people in fast-pace positions makes quick decisions, but not always the right ethical decision.

Does procrastination actually improve productivity or is it just a ploy for those people who are lazy?



Schumpeter. “No Rush: In Praise of Procrastination.”  The Economist. 07.07.12

33 thoughts on “Ready. Set. Procrastinate?

  1. Personally, I do not believe that people choose to be ‘lazy.’ Therefore, to answer your question I would have to say that ‘procrastination’ does improve productivity, due to the facts that you have only given two options as answers and that the second option does not apply. I have put the word ‘procrastination’ in quotes, because it carries a connotation with it, which I do not necessarily agree with. The manner in which the word ‘procrastination’ is used in this post seemingly implies that a project has not been initiated until ‘the last minute.’ This can never be true. The moment a project manager or participant in the completion of a project learns about the project, the project has begun. This is due to the fact that participants in the project’s completion have been in existence for some time, before the project. In that time of existence, each member has learned various skills. Some of those skills are more developed or outright more effective than others. If a person’s skills allows them to complete projects in a short amount of time before it is due, it is not procrastination. Technically, that person has been preparing for the completion of that project all of their life.

    1. I agree with your analysis of the post. I never believed that procrastination was an issue with completing a project. Your stance on the topic is very understandable as well as logical.

  2. Procrastination sucks. I don’t think it’s always a ploy for those who are lazy because I procrastinate with many things and it’s because I’m so busy. The only reason why procrastination improves productivity is something HAS to get done and you’ve just waited until the very last minute to do it. Productivity may be improved, but quality is definitely decreased. I guess it depends on what’s more important and how a person feels about mediocre work. I personally hate to procrastinate and when I do, I stress myself out and usually pull a few all-nighters in order to turn in my best work that I possibly came given the time constraint.

  3. In my personal opinion I believe that it does increase productivity but the quality is probably not there compared to taking the time and progressing through a workload.

    1. I would like to disagree about the quality. Though it is true, we must not say that it goes for everyone. I know a few people whose quality actually improves when they procrastinate and start/finish a few days before (or even the night before). When they start/finish their work early, their quality is actually worse than when they procrastinate.

  4. I think procrastination is honestly a way for lazy people to get away with some things they don’t want to do, I also think it is a probelm and for productivity because the quality of work will not be the same. When people procrastinate, they do not feel like doing much, they wait until the last moment, stress out, and with all this stress they cannot complete a task properly. I personally agree that procrastination at the work place is a very negative thing.

  5. There is a major difference between taking time and thinking through a problem and waiting until the last second to work on a problem. To me, procrastination is waiting until the very end and throwing something together and hoping that it works. I do not think it is procrastination if you are constructively thinking or working on a problem and putting together a solution at the deadline. The problem is that most of the time we wait until the end because we do not want to work on the problem and not because we are in deep thought thinking about the problem.

  6. I’ve enjoyed reading the post and subsequent comments. The one thing that comes to mind though is that the definition of procrastinate is simply to delay or put off until a later time. Whether it be the media, self-help books or our society of ‘Just Do It’, procrastination unfortunately has gotten a bad reputation and become synonymous with laziness.

    To answer the question, I correlate improving productivity with being more efficient with one’s time. If one decides to procrastinate on something to give it more thought, which leads to a better answer or result, then procrastination improved productivity. If one procrastinates to the last minute to do something because they didn’t want to do it as Nathan mentioned and the result was a lesser quality answer or result, then it did not improve productivity. Procrastination can improve or worsen productivity depending on how it is utilized.

    Lastly, thanks for posting this article from the Economist. I like how it not only tells the reader that stopping and giving thought to something can be beneficial, but also gives recent examples and suggests how procrastination can be used positively. I will definitely have to review the “Wait: The Art and Science of Delay” book. I just wonder if it will have a tortoise and hare story within it.

  7. While the actual practice of procrastination might be helpful in making a decision that needs to be finalized immediately, I think overall procrastination is a drag on productivity. Spending 12 straight hours at something, rather 12 total hours over the course of the week just means that the rest of the time over the week we spent on non-productive tasks. And I don’t agree that it leads to a more informed, thought-over decision….instead I believe the length in time necessary to make a sound decision is shortened and procrastination is really the art of cutting your loses.

    However, it is very interesting that this subject is currently getting more press and further studies have been published. I feel like procrastination is something that a large portion of society faces mainly by how we lead our lives. In an environment where everyone is extremely busy and down-time is a treasured commodity, if a project or a task can be pushed off or delayed, it will quickly be done so. Maybe in a fantasy world where everyone worked 30 hour weeks, procrastination would be more of a rarity.

  8. I think it’s worth noting the distinction between procrastinating and prioritizing. I know that personally, I am not procrastinating something as much as I am prioritizing. Due to the increase in technology and the speed at which information is shared, viewed and processed, I think that people expect results in shorter turnaround times than they did before. With the expectation and deadlines becoming shorter, people often find themselves having to prioritize tasks, even more so in a down economy where companies are downsizing and asking for employees to take on more responsibilities. So, if you have more tasks on your plate than possible to accomplish in a day, you will naturally postpone the task that has a later deadline.

    On the other hand, I recall a time period in life when I had plenty of time to complete all my tasks (…undergrad, anyone?) and I recall still waiting to the very end to complete assignments and decisions in general. So, I would also agree with the article that increased time on a project can improve or increase the insight of the result as well. Very interesting topic!

  9. There is no substitute for preparation and planning. I cannot see getting a project at work that is a 6 week project and procrastinating and doing it all in the final week. That is a recipe for disaster. Sure maybe procrastinating gets the blood flowing and allows one to concentrate in short spurts to get items done here and there, but to me this is not a long term sustainable or successful solution to mastering education or a career.

  10. I think that planning and working on your projects in advance will almost always lead to a more successful outcome. For me, when I procrastinate, (a) I usually end up having to do a lot of multitasking and don’t necessarily fully focus on the project i’m working on, or (b) I have very limited time to complete the project so I throw something together with my initial thoughts. I don’t have the time to actually sit there and think through what I could do.

  11. I believe that SOMETIMES procrastination does improve productivity because when I put projects, papers, or studying off until the last minute, I have the ability to really focus and get the job done. For example, if I have a 5-page paper due in two weeks, I would not be motivated to work on it right away because it is not that big of a deal. If I start the paper two or three nights before the due date, I feel that I am more committed to the assignment and will just want to get it over with. On the contrary, if there is a quarter-long project or assignment, it would be smart to divide the work into sections over the course so it is not so overwhelming. It really comes down to personal choice.

  12. Procrastitnation is something that is practiced by everyone at some point in their lives. And like everything else some are better then others, maybe it has something to do with making that snap decision. For some the more they think about an answer the farther they get away from the correct solution, while others thrive on being able to break down the question and think of every possible outcome coming down to what they think the best answer. Like everything there are so many different possibilities to every obstacle, there’s never one best solution.

  13. Procrastination is something that many of us have to deal with on a daily basis. Whether it is school or work, it is present. We would sooner clean our room and vacuum then have to write that ten page paper for history. Though, in my eyes, not all procrastination is bad. There are many healthy activities one could do to “procrastinate”. One could exercise, read a book, or even take a quick cat nap. All of these “procrastinations” can actually help enhance healthy brain function and allow for a higher level of thinking. So in the end, if you want to walk the dog or vacuum, do it, because your mind and body will thank you.

  14. This post made me really think about procrastination in a new way. I pride myself on my time management skills and organization, avoiding procrastination at all costs. However, procrastination is at times unavoidable; unexpected situations can arise and the assignment that you planned on completing one night gets pushed to the next. At times, these unexpected situations are very welcomed, as we all need a break at times. The post offers insight as to how procrastination could not only offer time for thoughts to develop and meld, but it can also serve as an instigator for adaptability. Those whom choose to procrastinate or are placed in a situation that forces them to procrastinate must be adaptable to the new timing and work to put out their best work and effort as efficiently and effectively as possible. This is no easy feat. Perhaps procrastinators should be given a bit more credit in life.

  15. Before reading this post I always thought of procrastination as a bad thing. Personally I try to always avoid it at all costs because I feel that starting early on a project and finishing early is the best way to achieve results I am proud of. I know there are always times where procrastination is unavoidable but in most cases I never really understood how someone could wait till the last minuet to start a project and turn in quality work. I remember in high school always getting really mad any one of my friends who I know procrastinated on everything would get a higher grade on a paper or project. This article really made me realize that procrastination isn’t all that bad. It allows individuals to have more time to brainstorm, and although they are starting on the task at hand at the last minuet that time they took to bounce around ideas actually allows individuals to develop quality work. I also really found the part where they bring up procrastinating allows individuals to make more ethical decisions. This is something I never really even thought about but it makes sense. By taking a longer time to make a decision it allows you to think more deeply on your decisions rather than jumping into something without taking much time to think. This article has shown me there are benefits when it comes to procrastination.

  16. I would have to disagree with some of the other comments and say that procrastination increases productivity AND quality. Over the years, I have found that waiting to complete a certain task such as a project or paper actually increases the quality of that work. If I were to begin working on a task the moment it was assigned, I would most likely make endless changes to it and constantly doubt myself. By having time to think the task over and then putting all my focus on it a day or two before it is due, I find myself constantly emitting more superior work each time. My brain is completely focused on the project at hand when I do “procrastinate” and the best ideas come to my mind at this time. At the same time, I am also a perfectionist. Although I do procrastinate, I will stay up all night if I need to putting together the best paper or presentation that I can. My effort is concentrated into one or two days of intensive work, and the outcome always looks like I have spent weeks putting it together.

  17. When in a school setting, I do not believe procrastination is beneficial. Letting assignments, readings and studying pile up until the last minute only results in the infamous all-nighter I am sure we have all experienced. It is understandable if something comes up such as a family emergency but if the procrastination is because we are lazy, which often seems to be the case for me, that sleepless night or poor grade is only our fault. On the other hand, in a business setting I believe it depends on the situation to determine whether or not procrastination can prove beneficial or detrimental. More time on a project can bring about more ideas and solutions, but that last minute work putting it all together can end up being rushed or not well explained, which I am sure no boss will appreciate.

  18. I believe that when in a school setting, procrastination can be very beneficial. I believe that it is completely subjective to the type of person. Some people procrastinate and some don’t. It is a matter of preference or habit that many students and workers have become adapt to. Saying procrastination is wrong no matter what could lead to problems for those people who are accustomed to it. Moreover, there are some studies that show that after procrastinating, a person is in such a focused mode for work that more adrenaline is pumped through their blood helping them to work better in a physical way as well as mental. As a manager, if a worker procrastinates, I should only be concerned if said worker begins to fall short on his obligations. If one procrastinates and still finishes work and tasks with the requirements satisfied, then there is no reason to change his way of operating.

  19. I think that the pros and cons of procrastination are different depending on the individual. Some people might be able to perform well under crunch time while others struggle. I do not believe that waiting till the last minute will help you make a better decision because if you start making a decision earlier, there is more time for research to help come up with the best conclusion.

  20. I don’t think procrastination is a ploy for those who are lazy. It definitely depends on the individual. Some people perform better under pressure and others simply prefer completing an assignment way in advance before a deadline.

  21. I think that there are pros and cons associated with procrastination and the effectiveness of it differs from one goal or project to another. I have first hand experience in leaving a project due until the last minute. The beauty of doing that is that it gets me to focus one hundred percent on what needs to get done and the most efficient way of doing it because of the limited time that I have. If I were to start the same project earlier, I would fool around while working on the project knowing well enough that I still have a lot of time in front of me. However, procrastination isn’t always the best. If you lay off working on a project for too long, you can find that you do not physically have enough time to finish the project anymore and thus would produce a sub-par product. In my opinion, procrastination can result in improved productivity as well as end result as long as the individual leaves him or herself enough time to actually finish the work that needs to be done.

  22. Procrastinating is not only an excuse for laziness, it is also completely unhealthy. Although you often end up completing the task in a mediocre way, the stress, anxiety, and sleep deprivation that comes with procrastinating is not beneficial to you at all. Quality of your work and your personal health are definitely the cost you pay for being lazy.

  23. Personally, I feel as though procrastination can be both beneficial and harmful. I find myself procrastinating very often. My quality of work does not suffer. The work itself is just simply done closer to the deadline. I do feel though, as if procrastination is an unhealthy habit. I have found myself, as well as many others, in the library pulling all-nighters studying for exams or writing papers. You find that you haven’t eaten, you haven’t slept, and you are tired for the next week due to the lack of adequate rest you have received.

    Again though, I believe procrastination is just simply doing your work closer to the deadline.

  24. Personally, I believe that procrastination is you being lazy. It is a form of not wanting to do work. And yes, I am one of those procrastinators. I tend to wait until the last minute to work on big projects (and most often times I don’t even look at it until the last minute). This applies to a lot of my friends too. So in term of procrastination is a form of productivity, I would have to disagree with you.

    However, I do see your point and/or the article’s about procrastination being a form of productivity. Though it does not apply to me (and my friends), some people procrastinate because they need more time to think things through rather than making rash decisions. But have you ever talk to your friends and ask them why they wait till the last minute to start/finish the project? Most would give you excuses how life (family and/friends) has get the better of them and some would just straight out admit that they just didn’t care or feel that they could do it last minute. Again, these are (just a few handful of) students I’m talking about so it may be different in the professional world.

  25. I think there are two ways to look at procrastination, both in your personal life, and also in your professional life. I think that when you address procrastination you need to be aware of the elements of a situation, and the task that is up for completion. As the original poster said, essentially procrastination allows you to think, and address a problem with the most time possible, but there are two sides to this problem. IF you don’t manage your time you will be under a time crunch and rushed for completion which wont allow you to thoroughly to complete the task at hand. However if you use all the time allotted to you to finish said project the result can be a well thought out, strategically managed, and completed project that can show your ability to work under pressure.

    In my opinion i think procrastination has its benefits as well as its downsides. In my case I tend to plan ahead enough and give myself enough time to be able to work at a leisurely pace to complete whatever I’m working on, as well as a little time cushion. This is only because I’ve learned that through procrastination that i make more mistakes if I rush, so whatever I’m working on I would rather do it once, and do it right.

    In conclusion I do not recommend procrastinating because it doesn’t allow you enough time if something occurs that is not within your control, which does happen, and can have serious consequences in your professional career.

  26. I see what the article is trying to say about how taking longer produces better decisions. However, I do not think that is the same as procrastinating. I believe that a person would make a better decision if they thought about it for a while. But, I don’t think that is what procrastinators do. I believe procrastinators don’t even begin to think about it until the last minute. I know for myself and for many other procrastinators, that I have not even looked at an assignment or the requirements until the night before. I think what the article proves is that if I had two weeks to do an assignment and I started thinking about it on the first few days and brainstormed throughout the whole two weeks, I would still perform well if I waited until the end to begin working.

  27. After having read the article, it seems to me that the level of procrastination varies depending on the situation and on what is on the line. It is true decisions are better made after a while of thinking on them, but again there is limit on time. As for what I believe procrastination entitles is the lack of time management and pushing everything to the last minute because we are convinced that the best performance occurs last minute, which sometimes it is not true. I am, too, a procrastinator myself on some things that I know I will have time to finish if I do it last minute, but on the other hand I also start on some things when first assigned. In the end it all comes down to how deadlines are prioritized and the level of effort that is required to have them finished.

  28. There are pros and cons when it comes to procrastination. The way I see it, it’s also based on luck, most students procrastinates when it comes to an upcoming exam or a paper that is due within the next 24 hours. Some students find motivation within the the last few hours to actually get their brain working, while those who fail with last minute decisions fail. Plus it also depends on how smart the person is, some can get away with minimal studying while some can spend up to hours or days or even a week to study for a exam and would get the same result as those who procrastinated until the very last minute.

  29. Procrastination became a part of my life when I started college. I believe that procrastination does improve quality in some point because I think that when you know something is due you feel the pressure to get the assignment done. The pressure that you have eventually makes you focus more on what you are supposed to do and helps you understand what is to be done. I don’t think that procrastination is another word for being lazy because I am a procrastinator because I am really busy all of the time. I work full-time and come to school full-time and i still have to deal with house chores and doing homework. Time flies when you are busy and when you least expect it the due dates are right around the corner.

  30. I don’t think procrastination has anything do to with having more time to “thing about” what decision you are ultimately going to make. I think people who procrastinate (all of us do it or have done it) either wait until the last minute because they are either doing something else or have completely forgotten about the assignment in general. I agree with you that in some cases, productivity may be increased when procrastinating because of the increased stress and time-crunch needed to complete the assignment on time, but for the most part I believe that working on an assignment or project over time will yield a better end result.

  31. In my opinion, procrastination does not improve productivity. It doesn’t allow an individual to achieve optimal results when completing tasks at hand. I believe that when an individual is crunched for time they only slap something together for the sake of getting it done and often will regret waiting until the last minute to do it. Procrastination can stress out an individual inhibiting them to think clearly about the assignment and could lead them to make poor ethical choices. As a result, procrastination can leave a an individual feeling drained of energy, guilty, or like a failure thus leading them to become unproductive in other areas of their life. Individuals who give themselves enough time to reflect and make changes to produce a high-end product will be more successful in all arenas of life.

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