Woman avoiding work
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Waiting until the last minute to tackle important projects doesn't mean you're a procrastinator—it could just mean that your mind works better under pressure.
As a university instructor, the close of each academic term is always the same for me: I get a flurry of apologetic e-mails from panicked students who have put off their homework and term papers until the last possible moment. They beg for an extension. Procrastination is a phenomenon that is familiar to everyone, even outside of academia.

Who really likes to wash laundry, balance checkbooks or fill out complicated tax forms? Most folks put these activities off in favor of more pleasant pastimes like socializing, going out to eat or reading a good book. Procrastination is the result of having very little motivation for a boring or unpleasant activity and it is something everyone experiences. The real problem is that procrastination can sometimes overshadow a hidden strength.

Incubation Is Not Procrastination

I once coached an extraordinary young man, whom I'll call Mark. Mark was at the tail end of his training at a prestigious medical school. When we met on a Monday of his last week, Mark told me he felt the stress of a number of weighty assignments, all of which had pressing deadlines. He had only a handful of days to write applications for internships, turn in final papers and secure letters of recommendation. It was a tremendous amount of difficult work to be completed in a short period of time. Mark asked me to check back with him midweek to crack the whip and make sure he was still making progress on his work. When we spoke again on Wednesday, Mark had fallen into a deep funk. Not only was there no progress, but he had frittered away hours in meaningless pastimes like downloading music and walking in the park.

Mark uttered the all-too-familiar phrase, "I am such a procrastinator!" He vilified himself for checking e-mail, having lunch with his wife and other activities that appeared to be in the service of avoiding his more pressing tasks. Something about the word "procrastinator" just didn't fit with what I was seeing. Here was a young man about to graduate from an elite medical school with a flawless academic record extending back into his middle school years. My instincts told me that it was not a lifetime of chronic procrastination that led Mark to his current situation. On a hunch, I asked him a crucial question, "When you get around to completing your work—and we both know that you eventually will—how will the quality be?" My client seemed taken aback by the question. He answered with confidence, a single word: "Superior!"

The difference between incubators and procrastinators  

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