The word ‘procrastinator’ is my version of Sandberg’s ‘bossy.’ I don’t like that word when it’s used to describe driven, focused, ambitious people.
I notice that a lot of high-achievers call themselves procrastinators when they thrive at performing closer to a deadline, churning out high-quality work in lightening speed. The label wouldn’t be that big of a deal, except for two reasons:
1. I don’t hear anyone saying, “I procrastinate all the time and that’s the way I work best.” High-achievers’ response to their own procrastination is usually pretty punitive, “I procrastinate and I really need to stop doing that and get it together.”
2. “Procrastinator” carries some really negative connotations. Lazy, sloppy and unfocused, to name a few.
These connotations aren’t just harsh, but also wildly untrue for so many people who happen to excel when the pressure’s on. What is true is this — sometimes the hare wins, too.
In a culture that teaches that slow and steady is always better, when high-achievers wait to perform, a powerful (and categorically false) assumption gets activated. Unfortunately, it’s an assumption that can very negatively impact your self-esteem, rob you of your sense of accomplishment and spur similarly negative assumptions:
I waited to do X, so I don’t care about X as much as I should and I don’t have my bleep together as much as I should. I’m not in control.
The outcome of your work is completely dismissed and the approach is overly emphasized. This imbalance sets you up to feel like you’re losing when you’re winning. You don’t appreciate you’re efforts and accolades because you’re stuck on a rule that doesn’t apply to your personality type.
We all know that some people aren’t particularly motivated and do keep a laissez faire approach to life, love and work. What’s interesting is the amount of people who incorrectly toss themselves into this category when they utilize a deadline to gain momentum and take the sprint-and-rest approach.
If you wait until the pressure’s on to perform, notice the assumptions that you’re lazy until you have to do something and that you don’t have it together. Push back on the assumptions with some reality testing:
Are you hitting a good chunk of your goals? Are you receiving positive feedback from people whose opinions you trust?
Yes, I am, but if I didn’t procrastinate I’d be doing even more, I’d be truly thriving.
Are you sure about that? Our personalities are kind of here to stay, so trying to yield change by forcing yourself to fundamentally alter your personality traits rarely ever works. In fact, if you go against your own natural grain and force yourself to take the tortoise/slow and steady approach, you might actually perform much worse.
It’s the same as taking someone who thrives on doing things at a slow and steady pace and instead making them perform tasks at the last minute. It feels like a scramble for them. There’s no ‘zone’ they get into where they can focus and perform. They often crack under the pressure and do worse when they go against their natural approach. Most likely, so would you.
Instead of trying to be a whole different person, maximize your personality and recognize that you are a master of exploiting the utility of your time when you want or need to. Some of the hardest working people I know need the pressure of a deadline to jolt that magic energy that pushes you through the finish line in lightening speed. Since there’s not a word for doing things at the last minute and doing them incredibly well, lets call that maximizing. Are you a maximizer?
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which approach you take. The thing that makes or breaks success isn’t any specific approach to goals, it’s how much self-destructive behavior you engage in along the route. If you don’t take care of yourself it doesn’t matter which process you choose, you’ll always end up hurting and lagging behind. So will your goals and dreams.
Negative self-talk is self-destructive, so push your mental reset button with a simple and fresh script about your work ethic: I work hard and I know myself well enough to know what works well for me.
The slow and steady thing is true in that you don’t achieve anything meaningful instantaneously. We all have to cover the same distance, and the distance is long. You can’t magically transport yourself to the end or cut corners, but whether you sprint and rest or walk briskly the whole way really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re kind to yourself through your own dedicated process.