How to Procrastinate at Work: A Complete (Research-Based!) Guide

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Some research says the best way to spark creativity is to walk away and that the best ideas come from those least-expected "aha!" moments. So maybe procrastination isn't such a bad thing after all. Or is time spent on those cat memes taking its toll? Can procrastinating ever be a source of productivity?

Here's the complete guide to procrastinating at work:

DO: Delay to Gain Perspective Before a Big Decision
The Creativity Research Journal studied the working habits of a particularly intelligent group of people, winners of the Intel Science Talent competition. They found the group procrastinated productively. Some used procrastination as a trigger for a helpful amount of stress needed to ignite positive action. Others saw it as a "thought incubator": They put off making a decision because they wanted to fully process it before finding a solution.

DO: Check Things Off the Bottom of Your To-Do List
The same study also found that the tasks the science competition winners were doing while avoiding work were helping in other areas of their life. They were procrastinating efficiently and taking care of other responsibilities. So don't feel too guilty the next time you pause from that spreadsheet to pay your gas bill online.

DON'T: Delay Important Work Out of Fear You'll Fail
Professor Joseph R. Ferrari of DePaul University writes extensively on procrastination and has found that procrastinators aren't simply managing their time poorly. It's a tactic deployed by those with vulnerable self-esteem and has a lot to do with perceived notions of time.

DON'T: Delay Taking Important Action
There are those who delay making decisions, and those who delay taking action. Ferrari found that the decision-avoiders are dependent on others, relying on them to make their minds up for them. They're more submissive and prefer to pass the buck to someone else whom they can blame them if it all goes wrong.

The task-avoiders, on the other hand, are generally characterized by low self-esteem; they make a decision but don't follow up on it. Of course a lot of people fall into both categories, but the findings go some way in explaining the different ways people procrastinate.

DO: Mind Your Work Habits From an Early Age
Though procrastination might seem merely a personality quirk, scientific opinion is divided as to whether it can be put down to nature, or is the product of a person's environment.

According to Ferrari and further research from Oklahoma State University, factors like "time perspective" affect someone's likelihood to procrastinate. Time perspective is how people understand and interpret their past, present and future. For example, someone who focuses on the bad things in his past is more prone to bitterness and resentment. Although it's possible to modify your time perspective, it's thought to be rooted in personality and linked to procrastination.

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