Procrastination? Is it always bad?

do something in letterpress typeI’m known for pushing efficiency, effective working and using technology to achieve the quicker, faster, now ethos. That’s good, but it isn’t always better!

We’re often told it is better to do something now, anything rather than nothing at all. Really? If it were as easy as that, there would be no bad decisions, which we all know isn’t true.

It may be counter-intuitive, but here’s why you need to slow down, maybe even stop, before your next big decision.

We make decisions every day. And, if you’re like most people, you’ve probably grown accustomed to the idea that decisiveness is about making choices quickly, confidently, and consistently.

But are those the right qualities for really good decision-making?

Why You Should Wait

Big science projects like CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics, approach decision-making differently. Because they’re engaged in work that has never been done before, the scientists are acutely aware of just how much they don’t know. As a consequence, they often delay design decisions as late as they can. Why? Because every day that they wait brings new data, new mistakes, new learning. They’re keen not to box themselves into choices based on information that rapidly becomes out-of-date.

This is a big challenge for any group working in research, design, and innovation. It prompts a critical question: How much do you have to know today to decide how much today? How much can you afford to delay until you know more?

What to Do in the Meantime

This seems unproductive in business, considering you’ve got used to speed, despite the mounting evidence against the first-is-always-best, fast-is-always-good phenomenon.

In a fast-moving environment, often the smartest thing to do is to stop and watch. Keep collecting data. Keep asking questions. Make a decision, yes, but leave it until the last moment you can. Take time to absorb uncertainty and learn from it.

An example of this would be Morrisons, the supermarket chain who have waited and watch the online grocery market for two years while all their main competitors jumped into the fray, they now hope to benefit from the mistakes that have been learnt over the last two years.

They won’t even have to create the costly and time consuming infrastructure their competitors had to, Morrisons are going to use the existing infrastructure of Ocado, an online grocery company which has been in partnership with the up-market Waitrose supermarket chain, and has failed to make a profit so far. This repositioning with a new partnership may be just what both Morrisons and Ocado need to effectively gain market share and profit in this fast growing area.

So while many saw Morrisons procrastinating, they were all the time gaining more information to make the best decision on how to make the most of online shopping.

Procrastination may be seen by many as the thief of time, but if you’ve got the time it may pay dividends to just wait.