We all procrastinate.
Whether it’s watching another episode of Veronica Mars instead of cleaning the kitchen, or scrolling through Twitter instead of responding to that email, or grabbing lunch with a friend instead of working out.
Procrastination is something we all do.
Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics, describes procrastination as a dilemma. This dilemma is between what is good for us now and what is good for us in the long term.
Ariely authored three fascinating books, exploring the intersection of psychology and economics, and how humans are predictably irrational.
The experiments featured in his books include serving beer with vinegar, giving away free Hershey’s Kiss, and allowing college students to choose deadlines or no deadlines when submitting final papers.
As I found myself re-reading through his books, one point jumped out at me and hit me right between the eyes.
Giving up on our long-term goals for immediate gratification, my friends, is procrastination.
Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational
If you’re working with customers every day, you experience some highs and lows.
Yes, you might be the person that takes the brunt of complaints or be berated by someone else.
As I’ve found at Highrise, there are ways to earn the Warm Fuzzies and avoid the rants or complaints.
I’ve learned doing the work for the customer and saving them time brings lots of Warm Fuzzies. Or commenting on their business or website is good for a thank you too.
Another tough lesson is that you can’t always get the Warm Fuzzies. Sometimes you have to disappoint people that are using your product.
Highrise hasn’t been updated for a very long time. We’re fortunate to have an awesome group of customers, but all of us have gotten very used to how Highrise works. Our small team of five people is tasked with making the product better.
The challenge is there are lots of ways to make it better.
I’ve scrolled through past customer history and found customers demanding for identical feature requests in 2010 as they do today.
Our iPhone app is outdated. It looks sharp on an iPhone 4, but customers ask us almost daily when the new app will be completed.
Android app? Highrise has never built their own native Android app. But some customers think without one, Highrise is useless.
After an interaction with one customer, it became clear to me that there are just some people you have to disappoint.
A few feature request emails back and forth, me explaining how we’re going to consider ways to make this easier in the future, the customer’s patience evaporated.
“I see you making changes, but none help me. This can’t be that hard. Just fix it. It’s probably one-day total of development time.”
This all brought me back to procrastination.
A lot of the practical advice about procrastination is about ways to overcome it.
13 tips to help you stop procrastinating. Yes, I find it ironic that’s a BuzzFeed headline.
We associate procrastination with being bad. It’s something we need to beat or overcome.
But is it?
As Ariely teaches us, procrastination is a dilemma. Graham details the three types of procrastination, explaining instead of working on something you either:
- do nothing
- do something less important
- do something more important
The first option is what we all think of procrastination, doing nothing at all.
Graham argues the third option is good procrastination. And the most dangerous type of procrastination, or the bad, is the second option.
When you’re spending time doing something less important, it means you’re not spending time doing something more important.
You can rearrange your whole inbox and label specific messages. And you would probably feel like you got something done, but you didn’t reply to a single email.
Bad procrastination shakes the hand and plays nice with easy problems. The cross-it-off your to-do list problems. The type of problems that bring immediate gratification.
Choosing to do something more important is hard. Good procrastination wrestles with the big, hairy problems that take time. The type of problems you invest in today, and don’t see the reward for another six or seven months.
The customer is probably right. It might only be one day of development time to fix her problem.
But it’s not that easy.
As one of my fellow team members explained, “time spent fixing things is time spent not building new things, and the future of the company depends on us building new things.”
As I was writing my reply to the customer, I found myself with two choices. A dilemma.
I could explain to my team that we need to fix this for her, and we could fix it. Warm Fuzzies for everyone.
I could disappoint her and explain that our time is not best spent fixing this problem right now. Disappointment.
Both choices involve procrastination.
The first choice is the bad type of procrastination. It’s doing something less important. It’s giving up our long-term goal for a reward - the Warm Fuzzies.
The second choice is good procrastination. It’s working on something more important. It’s committing to our long-term goal and deferring the reward for another day.
This is a dilemma we all face every day. You can choose the immediate gratification or the long-term goal.
You’re going to procrastinate.
Sometimes you choose do something less important and other times you choose do something more important. And sometimes, you choose to do nothing at all.
What will you choose today?