Is Procrastination a good thing?

Well that depends!

According to UCSD professor Frank Partnoy procrastination is split into two different levels, one being Active Procrastination and the other Passive Procrastination. Usually when we think of procrastination we think of a lazy dude chillin out on his sofa as he eats potato chips and watches Netflix all day. This stereotype is best characterized as passive procrastination where procrastination is just an excuse to be ultra lazy. This sort of procrastination is clearly a problem. We’ve all heard, taken part in, or bore witness to passive procrastination but what about active procrastination, what makes that different?


Professor Partnoy characterizes active procrastination as the idea that “active procrastination means you realize that you are unduly delaying mowing the lawn or cleaning your closet, but you are doing something that is more valuable instead.” For example, you have a homework assignment thats due in 40 minutes but you also remembered that today is trash day, its very clear that doing your homework is far more important than taking out the trash so you choose to ACTIVELY postpone taking out the trash in order to as Professor Partnoy puts it “[do] something that is more valuable instead”. Partnoy advocates that we should analyze how much time we have to make a decision or perform a task and then wait until the last possible moment to do it. Partnoy argues that procrastination is “a universal state of being for humans. We will always have more things to do than we can possibly do, so we will always be imposing some sort of unwarranted delay on some tasks”. Research into decision-making across multiple fields of work found that many professionals follow this exact same mindset. Partnoy delved deep into research in fields like sports, comedy, medicine, military strategy, and even dating to examine the decision-making process that each of these industries rely on and he was shocked to find that the overall trend in these industries is to procrastinate until the last possible moment before making any decisions.

For example Partnoy uses the idea of a professional tennis player saying “a professional tennis player has about 500 milliseconds to return a serve. A tennis court is 78 feet baseline-to-baseline, and professional tennis serves come in at well over 100 miles per hour. Most of us would say that a professional tennis player is better than an amateur because they are so fast. But, in fact, what I found and what the studies of superfast athletes show is that they are better because they are slow. They are able to perfect their stroke and response to free up as much time as possible between the actual service of the ball and the last possible millisecond when they have to return it”. This idea can best be explained by the fact that when we take the most available amount of time to make a decision we give ourselves the most available amount of information about that decision and we allow our minds to process the information and compare it against other decisions we may have made. Partnoy believes that “Innovation goes at a glacial pace and should go at a glacial pace” meaning that no one really thinks of a spectacular idea on the fly, great ideas and great decisions are based on carefully thought out plans and DELAY.

If this subject interests you check out these two books listed below:

  1. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
  2.  Wait: The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy

For more sources:

10 thoughts on “Is Procrastination a good thing?

  1. Brian Cunningham

    It’s definitely interesting to look at procrastination as a process as opposed to the super bad negative idea that we’ve always been made to feel like it is. I think we usually associate it with the lack of work that it provides us with when we’re not doing something, and we just think to ourselves how much “procrastination” is affecting us and preventing us from getting stuff done, where as a much better way to look at it isn’t as a lack of work, but rather something we’re doing instead of work. You just have to consciously weigh what is being done in place of the other work, and sometimes we misjudge that (for example: leisure time, while helpful, being given a lot more favor than necessary, taking away from productive work time). Overall very interesting way to look at procrastination objectively.

  2. Sarah Elizabeth Read

    Such a relatable post! I’ve discovered a lot about procrastination in the past four years, and it seems as though these two categories summarize procrastination pretty well! Something interesting that I’ve found with procrastination, however, is that I can focus and work really well under the pressure of a deadline. It’s harder for me to sit down two weeks before a project is due and say to myself, “Okay let’s get this done.” I’m not saying I want to get into this habit of putting things off in college or take any risks with papers at the last minute, but I’d be curious to see how efficient I am with an assignment say the week of, rather than the month of. Here’s a list of time management techniques specifically directed at college students. I’ve been working on keeping up with a lot of these tips, especially going into a brand new semester!

  3. jgb5274

    After reading your post it makes me feel better about procrastinating because I feel like since I’ve been at Penn State I procrastinate a lot more than I normally did at home. For the most part I put things off to do important things I am just not used to doing like buying food or doing laundry that hopefully I will get used to and won’t have to put off other things to do them. I found this article that shows all the good things in procrastination that you might be interested in reading.

  4. Erin Johnson

    WOW! WOW! WOW! I really liked this blog post and for a couple of reasons. I never realized there are two forms of procrastination, but now that you mention them it makes a lot of sense. So last night, I did not get a lot of sleep and today I have a ton of homework to do, but I know I won’t do my homework well or effectively if I do not nap. Would this be considered active or passive procrastination?

    I definitely display a lot of active procrastination in my daily life. For example, when I am deciding what homework to do first, I pick the thing that is easiest and will take the least amount of time first. Therefore, I am actively procrastinating other homework from other classes. This is such a funny way to look at it because it really does make a lot of sense. I am curious to see which kind of procrastination is more common among college students, especially here at Penn State.

    I also really like how you evolve your blog into the piece about the tennis player. The concept is not something I have ever thought about, but I feel like it applies to athletes of different sports. For example, in Basketball, the players are delaying the shot in order to get the easiest/best shot possible. Sometimes it comes down to the end of the shot clock and at other times it comes in an instant. It is funny to think that athletes are the best procrastinators because they are so athletic and fit that you would think they don’t have the option to procrastinate.

    Really great blog post. I really enjoyed it!

  5. Monica Lynn Powell

    Hey Ajay! Who would have thought that procrastination could be a good thing!? That word has such a negative connotation so I loved that you were able to put a different spin on it. Your post was clear and concise, very easy to understand. The examples you gave helped your post be more understandable and fit in well. I am all about looking at things from every angle so I’m glad you’re giving people an opportunity to do that with procrastination. I think you could definitely talk more about the benefits of procrastination and maybe ways to avoid it. It might even be interesting to talk about why people procrastinate. Now I’m curious as to what other things people commonly think of as bad that actually are not. That could be something to look into for your next post.

  6. Emma G Schadler

    Hey Ajay, your post was intriguing, and when I started reading it I found what I had been hoping to find! Active v. Passive Procrastination! Of course, I didn’t really know the names to what I was thinking of before I read it, but it helped make sense of some of the ideas I already had about procrastination. However, while you focused more on Active Procrastination, I believe that even Passive Procrastination can be potentially positive. Personally, I know for a fact that I am usually a Passive Procrastinator. I tend to lollygag with my work and wait until the moment I really have to get it done to finally work up the effort to do it. As a deadline gets closer and closer, I find myself getting more tense. I constantly think about the assignment, even though I have yet to start working on it. It might sound silly, but I’m sure some people will agree with me, but that pressure that builds up creates a keen sense of focus on the work when I finally start on it. Maybe this article I found can shed a little light on my thinking, although I do think Professor Partnoy’s approach is relevant as well and that I may be in the minority for successful (or those who think they’re successful) Passive Procrastinators.

  7. Anna Pearl Belinda

    Hi there, the names AP. This was a well organized post, you really kept your information clear and concise. I especially enjoyed the part about tennis because I’m a visual learner and the way that you described that was a nice example. A thought I had while reading this was actually the opposite of the conclusion that the blog came to. And that’s that I think some people do well under pressure. I mean of course sometimes our work is going to be sloppy if it is done last minute, but at the same time when the adrenaline is rushing and you realize you REALLY need to do something, our body reacts and performs well.
    But it was really cool to see that there are actually two kinds of procrastinating. Also that we need time to think things through. I like how we order things and basically rank them off of importance. At least we know what the important things are in our life!!!

    1. Ajay Shethna Post author

      OH no I TOTALLY agree with you, honestly when I procrastinate until the last moment my mind goes into like an overdrive mode where I am like at the top of my game. I was going to actually highlight that in the post but it slipped my mind before I posted the blog, I am naturally lazy(hence why I wrote a blog post about procrastination) but for me that high pressure situation actually makes me perform better than I would in a low pressure situation. Im really glad you made that point.

  8. Michael A Lupo

    Interesting post. I didn’t know that there was a study breaking procrastination down into good and bad forms. I have always been under the impression that all procrastination is bad. However when reading your description of Frank Partnoy’s explanation on leaving an item for later to complete a more important task, I realized that maybe procrastination isn’t as bad as I once though. For me personally, I would instead categorize active procrastination with time management. Time management plays such a huge role in the life of a college student. Daily, decisions are made to determine what to do and when. I guess according to Partnoy, this could also be described as active procrastination, but I think it falls more under time management. If you budget your time and have set goals per the amount of time spent on your school work, accomplishing these goals should be easy. In my own personal life, I feel that if I set a schedule for the day and work accordingly, I can easily accomplish the tasks at hand. In an article that can be read here, you can learn about ways to manage your time and how to use these ways to avoid harmful procrastination. Hopefully, people can use some of these skills to become better time managers and procrastinate less in the future.

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