Why Procrastination is Good for your Career

Here’s a question: If your boss sends out an email asking for input or feedback, how long do you think is an appropriate length of time for your reply?

The old ‘me’ might have hit reply-all before I’d finished reading the question, just in hopes of looking on-the-ball and ready-for-action. But not anymore.

You see, for a long time, I’ve been fooling myself into believing that faster is smarter, more impressive, more productive and, yes, better. But now, thanks to a man named Frank Partnoy and his book, Wait: the Art and Science of Delay, I’ve been freed from the guilt of right-aways and ASAPs.

Partnoy, a professor of finance and law at the University of San Diego, argues in his book that it’s just about always best to wait. In fact, he says most of our deadlines are self-imposed anyway. And since we can’t possibly do everything that’s on our plate, Partnoy says it’s all about “managing the delay.”

Here’s a good example: that email from your boss I asked about, what number was your inner timekeeper shouting at you? 3 minutes? 10 minutes? The next day?

Maybe you were first to hit reply-all, but think about this…What if you’d taken an extra hour or even day to mull the problem over? Could your response have been more thoughtful? Could your input have been better supported through additional facts or analogy? In your rush to reply and move on, is it possible you sacrificed an important contribution or insight – for speed?

No stranger to the fast-paced and frenetic, Partnoy used to work as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley. But now, he is happy to call himself an academic. “Procrastination is practically a job requirement. If I were to say I would be submitting an academic paper by September 1, and I submitted it in August, people would question my character.”

Partnoy advises we’d all be better off practicing what he calls “active procrastination.” Active procrastination is about delaying an inevitable task whilst doing something valuable in the meantime. Like thinking. Or collecting information. That’s in stark contrast to what he calls “inactive procrastination”, i.e. curling up into the fetal position over your upcoming performance review when you know you the results aren’t there.

So, all this to say, I’m taking breaths, “staring off into the distance” and wholeheartedly embracing procrastination. And, let me tell you, this new “taking pause” practice is feeling pretty good.

I may not lay claim to the fastest client service, but I can guarantee, when you work with me, you’ll be on the receiving end of thoughtful replies and careful consideration.

With so much thinking time, I’ve even come up with two more helpful ways you can incorporate procrastination to further your career:

The job you applied to (just hours after it was posted)

Before boldly (yet blindly) sending off another application, try using the time-to-deadline to seek out inside connections, research company news and better understand all the nuances of the job description. Then, use that intel to personalize your application for the company and role at hand.

You’ve been assigned a special project at work (and turned it around in record time)

Oops. In your hurry to be awesome, you failed to consult with several key stakeholders and caused some serious friction amongst several teams. Your too-fast approach lead to stepped-on toes, unfortunate oversights and a less than fleshed-out product. Think of how much further you could have gone and how much more information you could have gathered with a little extra time. As Partnoy would advise, in Greek and Roman times, procrastination was embraced and expected of the “the wisest leaders.” Oh, and re: the stepped on toes, Frayton suggests delaying your apology too.

So there it is. I’ve given up warp speed. I hope you’ll give it up too. If you’re considering commenting on this post, why not sleep on it? I can wait. And I’d love to hear what you have to say after thinking it over.