Timing is everything.
We treat procrastination as inherently bad, but all it means is delaying something, so why are we so quick to criticize the practice? Yes, it can be terrible and stressful if you always lazily shake off your responsibilities until the last minute. But there are also plenty of situations when you might want to hold off on things for good reason, whether that’s waiting for a sale before you make a big purchase or looking at the weather forecast before you head out on a weekend camping trip.
Your professional world isn’t exempt either. Here are six ways that you can use procrastination to your advantage in your career, plus five ways it can really set you back.
If You Want to Expand Your Network
1. Procrastination Helps if You Want to Keep Your Options Open
It’s OK if you’re slower with choosing and RSVPing to events if you’re doing so intentionally. Quality over quantity applies here: The meetups you decide to attend should only be ones you’ve chosen thoughtfully and that you’re positive will add value to your life. Take your time signing up for a networking breakfast you only feel meh about if it’s the first option you got for the upcoming weekend. (Chances are, you wouldn’t be missing out on that much anyway.)
Holding off on filling up your calendar with just fine events will allow you to have some flexibility when an exciting last-minute opportunity pops up, and it'll save you from cancelling on someone last minute.
2. But it Hurts if You Don’t Prepare Beforehand
You want to put your best foot forward when meeting new people, and that means knowing how you want to present yourself when you talk about your career, your hobbies, and your life. Practice your elevator pitch so you’re prepared with something to fall back on; you can choose in the moment whether or not you want or need to use it. Moreover, make sure you have a solid, clear plan for people to follow up with you, whether that’s printing out business cards beforehand or deciding if you want to give out your social media information.
3. Procrastination Helps if You’re Refocusing Your Career
Whether you’re facing a major career shift or working on rebranding yourself, it’s hard to network effectively when you don’t know what you’re aiming for professionally. Consider this: How will you be able to determine which relationships are worth building if you’re not sure yourself what you’re looking for? Of course, networking shouldn’t be entirely self-serving—you don’t want to wait until you absolutely need something to start cultivating meaningful relationships that can get you closer to your goals. It’s a two-way street, so waiting until you can clearly communicate where you’re at will make you that much more valuable as a contact.
While you figure out what you want to do next in your career and with your life, it can help to take a breather and hold off on connection-building events. Once you're more self-aware, when you do meet new people, you'll know who to look for and how to present and position yourself for success.
4. But it Hurts if You Don’t Follow Up Quickly
Being slow to reach out to new contacts can mean the difference between your next dream job and a missed opportunity. Meet an industry professional who really impressed you at that LinkedIn event last night? Don’t take longer than a day or two to follow up with her and strengthen your new relationship; otherwise, you risk losing her interest or worse, being forgotten entirely. And it’s not just worst-case scenarios at stake. The best way to show your enthusiasm is by expressing how your common interests and shared values make the connection a no-brainer, and by doing so in a timely manner.
If You Want to Find a Job
5. Procrastination Helps if You’re Adding Value to Your Resume
Halfway through with a marketing class or programming certification? If it’s a big enough value change in your resume, it might be worth it to wait until you see the whole program through before you send out applications with the new information on your resume.
Likewise, if you just started working on a new skill that would really make your application stand out, hold off on going after the job until you have the the anecdotes to convince your interviewer that your tangible experience makes you the best person for the position.
But, if you’re in a year-long program that’s wrapping up next week, you should always go with your gut on whether or not you’re ready to have a conversation about your new experiences. You only get one shot to really impress the hiring manager, and you want to be as appealing as possible.
6. But it Hurts if You Wait Too Long (at Any Point in the Process)
Whether that’s submitting your initial application to the job posting or sending in a thank you note after the interview, you don’t want to miss any of these important steps. If you do, you’ll not only appear unenthusiastic, but you’ll also risk being passed over entirely. As Muse writer Kristen Walker says, “…hiring is a much more emotional process than most of us believe.”
This added emotional value to any prospective new hire is also known as “the human factor.” You can easily bring that quality to the table and use it to your advantage with some good timing and enthusiasm, even if you’re not 100% qualified for the job posting in mind.
7. Procrastination Helps if You Have Other Loose Ends
If you’re in the middle of a project at work or have a big trip coming up, consider holding off on your job search until after you’ve cleaned up other time-consuming things in your life. While it’s not the end of the world to tell a potential employer that you have an upcoming vacation planned, too many moving pieces all at once can be problematic and distracting in the midst of a search. Applying for a position the day before you leave for two weeks in Costa Rica isn’t a great idea. Take some time to tie up your loose ends at home and at work, and you’ll feel so much better once you’re no longer splitting your time and energy between multiple big-ticket items.
If You Have a Lot on Your Plate
8. Procrastination Helps if Your Responsibilities Require Creativity
Stressed out about how you’re going to come up with the next big idea? Forcing yourself to be creative on a timeline almost never works. The good news is that procrastinating—doing something else while you brainstorm or letting your mind wander during mundane tasks—can help you come up with awesome ideas. Don’t sweat it if you don’t come up with the next Facebook today, and just remind yourself that with some patience, inspiration will surely hit you.
9. But it Hurts if You’re Being Relied On
If you need to send deliverables to a co-worker for him to meet his deadline, it’ll hurt your relationship (and maybe even your reputation) if you’re the reason he’s pressed for time later. Don’t put off something because you believe his deadline is in the distant future—you have no idea how much time he’ll need once he has the work from you. If it’s something easy (but perhaps boring or tedious), the inclination to put it off is totally natural. But it’ll feel even better when he’s thanking you for being prompt getting to your piece of the project.
10. Procrastination Helps if You Want to Figure Out What Matters
What you procrastinate on can be a sign of what you do and don’t care about. Putting responsibilities off until you absolutely have to prioritize some and perhaps ditch a couple of items could provide clarity for how you’re spending your time. If procrastinating gets you to let go of mindless activities that always make it on your to-do list but don’t add any value to your life or help your work flow, embrace it. In the long run, it’ll save you time, and that’s what matters.
11. But it Hurts if You’re Already Behind
If you’re already in hot water, resist the urge to procrastinate further—it could be a form of self-sabotage. That sense of I’m already doomed, so what’s the point? could be keeping you from delivering great results, even if it does end up just being a fraction of what’s expected of you. Plus, digging yourself deeper would only mean more work later, so your future self will definitely thank you if you shave off some of that while you still can.
You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) do everything with a sense of urgency. There are so many situations in which slowing down is just what you need. Understanding why you’re procrastinating is the key to knowing if you’re doing it for the right or wrong reasons. And that distinction can mean the strategic difference between getting ahead and falling behind in your career.
Photo of man procrastinating courtesy of Tom Merton/Getty Images.
Caroline Liu is a freelance writer, graphic designer, and computer programmer studying at Wesleyan University. She is pursuing majors in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Computer Science in order to bridge her passions for tech, design, and social justice. Learn more about Caroline on her website or follow her on Twitter.More from this Author