Procrastination: last best moment or stubborn toddler?

Procrastination has so many negative connotations; it’s often seen as an indicator of a lack of self-control or inability to manage your time. As someone who <ahem> does some of her best work under deadline, I have learned to distinguish between strategic procrastination—what I call finding the last best moment to address something— and simple avoidance of something I just don’t want to do, when my inner two-year-old wants to stomp her feet and say “you’re not the boss of me!”

Here are the clues I look for when a deadline looms and I’m still not working on the project.

It’s strategic procrastination if:

  • I am able to think about the project without wincing. While it may be a project that stretches me, I am not filled with dread when I schedule time in my calendar to work on it.
  • I notice that, when my mind wanders, I can imagine several different approaches or outcomes for this project. I may not be ready to make a choice, but I can see that there are multiple possibilities. Somewhere in the back of my mind, creativity is happening.
  • I realize that I don’t have all the information I need or some of the parameters are ambiguous or ill-defined, so I need to take action to resolve those uncertainties.
  • I have other projects with shorter deadlines, and I am reasonably/kinda/sorta sure I can get the work done on this project after those other jobs are finished.
  • I know that there is a reasonable chance that the situation will change or the problem will resolve itself in time, so I need to wait until a better time to address this project.
  • While I am not working on the project I “should” be doing, I am being productive in another area that is just as valuable to me.


I’m being a stubborn toddler if:

  • I find myself scanning the news, trimming my dog’s nails, fixing myself a snack and catching up on social media, all during times when I intend and need to be working on a project.
  • I know that other people’s schedules are dependent on me getting my deliverable in, but that doesn’t motivate me.
  • My stomach clenches whenever I think of the project. I start questioning my ability to do the work and berating myself for even taking on the project.
  • I am unhappy with how I priced the project or negotiated the parameters of the engagement (and I’m feeling too stubborn to just learn from the experience and think of some ways to avoid this happening again).
  • I am getting bogged down in the details and trying to make the deliverable perfect—I obsess with tweaking a slide deck template or formatting my cover memo.

Of course, recognizing that I’m acting like a two-year-old doesn’t mean I immediately shift into grown-up mode and just get the darned thing done. But at least I can take a clear-eyed approach to the situation and think through what I need to address within myself in order to get back on track. And if I do realize that I am postponing action on this project because the time isn’t right, then I simply make sure I have a start date in my calendar when I can give it my full attention.

See more of my tips on managing yourself.

One comment on “Procrastination: last best moment or stubborn toddler?

  1. Ok, so I learned from this that sometimes I’m a stubborn toddler. However, many times I’m thinking I’m actually more strategic. I especially like the last one – “While I am not working on the project I “should” be doing, I am being productive in another area that is just as valuable to me.” Of course, what is “valuable” is in the eye of the beholder! 😉

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