Procrastination is signal

Friday, February 11, 2022 by Louie Bacaj

In a heated debate inside the Small Bets community, I recently realized that working at a big company has turned me into a task monkey. And that has dulled many of my instincts.

Big Company world disproportionately rewards people that get shit done. You might be asking what's wrong with that?

Well, for one, people become obsessed with eliminating all procrastination in that world. Building something will always be better than idling in Big Company world. If one builds the wrong thing, then that just gets written off as a loss.

But what if all procrastination isn't bad?

What if procrastination is an evolutionary trait and part of our instincts for working on the right things. What if it is, in fact, our internal guide to work on things that matter most to us and the real world.

In the entrepreneurial world, which I've recently embarked on, there is no safety net. By far, the costliest thing is spending all our time heads down building the wrong thing. One has to build the right things or risk starving.

And so recently, with starvation in mind, I have started to allow myself to procrastinate more. This may seem strange, but hear me out. I am sharpening a trait I had long viewed as undesirable.

Procrastination, it turns out, is a part of our mind's intuition and body's gut feeling that the work in front of us is either meaningless or too ill-defined to succeed.

So how did we, as people, get so far out there that we completely demonized one of evolutions biggest gifts?

We got here because the modern world is obsessed with hyper-productivity. Otherwise, how would they run their hyper-efficient giant companies that are prone to extinction on the first sign of trouble?

As Morgan House describes in Casualties of Perfection the issues facing car supply chains:

"Just-in-time manufacturing – where companies don't stock the parts they need to build products, relying instead on last-minute shipments of components – was the epitome of efficient operations over the last 20 years. Then Covid hit, and virtually every manufacturer found itself dreadfully short of what it needs.
Super-efficient supply chains increase vulnerability to any disruption. And history is just a constant chain of disruptions. So you can imagine that we'll hear stories of companies who increased their earnings by, say, 5% by maximizing supply efficiencies only to see earnings fall 20% or more due to having no slack when trouble hit"

Procrastination, slack in the system, idling, sleeping, all of it is useful, or it wouldn't exist in nature.

Now I also understand that there are people that have trouble finishing anything. And for those people, a little bit of discipline will help. But both discipline and procrastination are tools. Nature has given us the power to override our procrastination with discipline for a reason, after all.

I say use all the tools.

If you are 80% or 90% done and procrastination stops you, then maybe rely on our old friend discipline to finish.

But I now see that it's easy for professionals to have the opposite problem. To go through ticket after ticket and forget about intuition and procrastination completely.

In that Big Company world, we have no choice the stuff needs doing; even though our evolutionary signals may be saying it's useless, no one will use it. Or it will never make any money. Maybe it's worse than useless because we can't even take the time to use our brains and think of something better. After all, we have to use it to finish the fruitless task.

So what have I learned since I started procrastinating more?

Since I started listening to my intuition and stopped working on things I felt were useless, my intuition has led me to create things that generate income. It has led me to work on various things I am far more interested in and led me to place several Small Bets rather than risk starving with just one.

As an engineer, I've always believed in using the right tool for the right job, and sometimes, the right tools are right inside us; we just need to listen to them and sharpen them.