Opinion

Five Great Things About Procrastination

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Editor’s note: James Altucher is an investor, programmer, author, and entrepreneur. He is Managing Director of Formula Capital and has written 6 books on investing. His latest books are I Was Blind But Now I See and FAQ MEYou can follow him on Twitter @jaltucher.

My wife was upset at me. “You spent all weekend responding to comments on TechCrunch,” she said, “and it was the one weekend without the kids and you were either on your head phones or playing chess or responding to TechCrunch comments.” And then she walked away. Upset. There would be no way to make it up to her. The weekend was over.

And I had big plans that weekend. My article was coming out 6am TechCrunch time on Saturday and I have two Kindle Singles (i.e. “small books”) that I am putting out in the next few weeks. One: “How to Be President of the United States in Ten Easy Lessons”. And two, “Scams”. Plus I’m in the middle of starting three different businesses. Only one peripherally related to porn.

So what was I doing? Why was I procrastinating so much?

I started to Google, “How to avoid procrastination?” There are a thousand blogs about this. A lot of it involves cutting a vein if you do something bad. Or taking pills of some sort. Ritalin. Whatever.

I procrastinate every day. The most basic is: “return so-and-so’s email”. A simple thing. I could write back “Hi” and that would satisfy the project. But I don’t do it. I go online. I play scrabble or chess. I look at my blog stats. I look at my Twitter feed. My Facebook feed. My blog comments. Should I respond? My emails (which come last. Emails are so 2008). Then I repeat. I remember that rap song from 1992 that I want to hear it again. What was it again. Oh yeah. MC 900 Foot Jesus, “The City Sleeps”, I listen to it. Then I listen again. Then I repeat “the loop” (thanks Naval from Angellist for summoning up my entire process in 2 words).

(you know you want to do it)

But now I’m going to get right down to it.

FIVE THINGS THAT ARE GREAT ABOUT PROCRASTINATION

(Hold on, 2 more “interactions” on Twitter. Be right back. And now that you mention it, I think I want to listen to that MC 900 Foot Jesus Song again).

Ok, I’m back. I only had one more detour. Someone had tagged a post of mine on Facebook and I wanted to “Like” it. Check out the post: “The Day Stockpickr Was Going to Go Out of Business – A Story of Friendship”.

Ok, where was I:

THE FIVE  THINGS THAT ARE GREAT ABOUT PROCRASTINATION

A)     Do stuff you like. Presumably you aren’t vomiting on your bedsheets when you are procrastinating. Unless you are into that sort of thing. Presumably you are probably doing things you like a lot. Even if it’s Twitter. I love Twitter. Tweeting. Retweeting. DM-ing. And if not that, online chess. I play about 200 games a day, with a clock  – 1 minute each side. It’s mindless. But I get constant stimulation? Am I great? No!? Ok, play again. Yes!? Ok, play again to confirm it. On and on. Mental troubles. (Note: see therapist)

(One sec: the guy whose post I liked just IMed me a “thanks”. When I should be the one thanking him. He liked one of my posts to post it on his Facebook wall! Oops. “The City Sleeps” is over. Hit that weird looking replay button YouTube.)

B)      Listen. Your procrastination is telling you something. Maybe the idea you were working on is bad. I started a software project once that I was going to make into a company. But I kept doing everything BUT the software project. Procrastination is your mind’s way of saying: “That bad! This good!” and puts your body at work on something you enjoy. Listen to it. Ask, why am I really procrastinating. Maybe I’m not calling the client back because I simply don’t like him.

Yes! It’s true. If you DON’T LIKE someone then you might not want to do business with them. People have this BS line, “its not personal, its just business.” No way! That’s why we procrastinate often. Because business, or anything you do, is personal. You aren’t a robot! You want to enjoy the things you do and be around people who uplift you and inspire you. And you procrastinate when your body and mind are telling you you don’t like something.

C)      Delegate. Your procrastination is telling you don’t like doing something. Delegate. Howard Hughes would procrastinate all the time. He personally invented oil drill bits that are still used in the oil industry. He developed techniques in the movie industry that are still used. He broke aviation records and owned the first transcontinental airlines. The guy was the Steve Jobs of the 1930s.

Do you think he did the crap work all by himself. Like the accounting work when he was the largest electronics part supplier to the military during World War II. Of course not. He delegated. Often your procrastination is giving you a guided tour of the things you need to delegate (i.e. the things you are not doing while you are procrastinating).

D)     Stop. Why did I procrastinate and not go to that meeting. Or I was ten minutes late to the meeting. Or I didn’t confirm a TV appearance in time and they replaced me. This happened to me a few months ago. The John Stossel Show wanted me on. I LOVE John Stossel. Why did I never confirm that I’d go on the show when they asked me and then I ended up not going on.

Because ultimately I didn’t want to go into the city at night (I live 80 miles north) and go on TV for 3 minutes and then have to go 80 miles back. That’s a drag. That’s about 200 minutes altogether of doing nothing for those 3 minutes of TV. I’d rather be reading, writing, IMing, playing chess, putting on my Superman outfit and saving lives, and all sorts of other things.

E)      Brainstorm. This is the only thing I’m asking you here. When you feel an overwhelming urge to procrastinate. When you don’t want to program something. Or you don’t feel like writing a business plan. Or you don’t want to go to a meeting, just brainstorm for a second: what are all the useful things you can be doing now instead of the boring thing you feel required to do. Maybe you’re entire idea is bad. Your business is bad. Stand up and move to another room to begin the process.

It’s not impossible for you to have bad ideas. In fact, 99% of your ideas are bad. I once set up a dating service on top of Twitter. BAD IDEA. People want to be anonymous on a dating service. Not on Twitter. I kept procrastinating on raising the money. Finally, the money I had raised, I returned, and I shut the whole thing down instead of wasting two years of my life before it would’ve failed anyway.

Instead, I keep a handy waiter’s pad with me at all times. There’s always things I need to brainstorm about (article ideas, business ideas, investing ideas, vlogging ideas, book ideas, SURPRISE! Ideas (everyone likes to be surprised). Often when I’m about to procrastinate, the one discipline I try to do is go off to another table and start listing things for a few minutes.

Here’s what I’ve realized, after thousands of hours of procrastination before, during, after companies, work, friendships, marriages, etc.

Don’t do what you don’t want to do. Procrastination is great because it tells you what you want to do. It also tells you what is probably a bad idea, or something you should delegate.

Not only that, it probably tells you what everyone wants to do. Like, in between the last paragraph and this one I went to the website for Cosmopolitan Magazine (I know, you probably didn’t think I was that sophisticated). I looked at a few articles like “How to Spot a D-Bag in 10 Seconds or Less”. A D-Bag!!!  Then I felt guilty so I switched to The Economist. First article: “The Yangon Spring”. No thanks. After I’m done with this article I’m all about D-Bags (and yes, it will be hilariously funny when someone comments here, “I bet you saw just a picture of yourself in that article”).

I use Procrastination every day to make my life better. I do the things I want to do. I figure out what I need to delegate. I brainstorm ideas, and I find clues buried in my subconscious about what my future will look like.

Addendum: Note that I procrastinated while writing this article. It was originally titled, “TEN THINGS…” But Five is good enough to make everyone’s life better

Addendum 2: In the last few paragraphs I wrote down an idea for a Vlog I’m going to do for PBS involving my nudity, Cosmopolitan, and The Economist. I promise you will laugh. At my nudity.

Addendum 3: Out of the 1000s of likes and comments this article will receive, someone always comments, “Really TechCrunch? This article? What has happened to the good ‘ol days.” Feel free to write that comment. Then refer to the “How to spot a D-Bag in 10 seconds” article in Cosmo. Ditto for the Grammar-philes out there. Maybe there can be a business around D-Bag spotting. Like a Foursquare thing. Like, I’m in the vicinity of 5 people who have been identified as D-Bags. Time to escape.

I don’t know. Think about it. While kayaking along the Yangon River.