In a world obsessed with productivity and getting things done, procrastination has become a dirty word. “Don’t put it off,” we’re told. “Do it now!” But there are some things you should always delay—and there’s a good reason for it.
When responding to situations that trigger, overwhelm, or upset you, procrastination can be an effective strategy. When your emotions are calling the shots, reacting too quickly isn’t just unproductive—it can sabotage your relationships and even your reputation.
“Nature endowed us with the ability to act quickly without procrastinating,” says Krishna Pendyala, author of Beyond the PIG and the APE: Realizing Success and True Happiness. “It’s great for surviving in the jungle but very bad for negotiating the modern workplace.”
That’s because even the smallest choices, like deciding to say something off the cuff or “reply all” to an email, can have a bigger impact than you realize. “Never underestimate the power of a mindful choice, even in the smallest of situations,” says Pendyala. “Reacting blindly will make life a lot harder than it has to be.”
Here are three instances when you should procrastinate—and how to do it right:
1. When your ego is compromised online…
Imagine this: You open an email that went out to your whole department—and whether intentionally or by accident, it portrays you and your team in a negative light. You rush to hit “reply all” to do damage control.
Try this: Hit pause, not send.
Firing off a response in the heat of the moment is almost always a mistake. Instead, return to the email in a few hours so you can reread it and respond with a clear head. When you’re ready to write your response, separate fact from opinion by using “I” statements that focus on how you feel about a situation (“When this happens, I feel ___…”), instead of the other person’s actions or character (“You did ___, and that was wrong.”). This approach allows you to be assertive and get to the root of a conflict without assigning blame.
Before you hit send, ask yourself the following questions: How would you feel if the roles were reversed? Is your response creating clarity, or is it escalating the conflict? Once you’re satisfied with your answers, go ahead and hit send—or even better, respond in person to avoid further miscommunication.
2. When you feel disrespected in person…
Threats to your confidence often come in the form of insecurity—yours and others. This is especially true at work, where people try to elevate themselves with tactics like name-dropping, correcting or talking over others, and gossiping. For example, when someone cuts you off or challenges you in the middle of a meeting, you might be tempted to put them in their place by barking back a response.
Try this: Don’t take the bait.
Getting into a public confrontation, especially in front of your coworkers, is never a good idea. “Whenever you’re in public, a good rule of thumb is to practice being kind versus being right,” says Pendyala. “Very little is to be gained from engaging in a fight in full view of others.”
Doing an internal regroup can help you feel less defensive. Try neutralizing the situation with labeling, which is internally naming others’ insecure behavior. (“My coworker is correcting me during this meeting to boost their own standing because they’re feeling self-conscious.”) If the person in question seems to have a real issue with you in particular, stay calm and offer to finish the conversation in private so that the meeting can continue. In other words, take the high road—you won’t regret it.
3. When you’re under pressure…
“When you feel rushed or overwhelmed, your adrenaline is high, which will make you more irritable,” says Pendyala. A short fuse means one thing: A situation is more likely to blow up—and could take your reputation along with it.
Do this: Ask for compassion.
If someone asks you for something or pushes you for a response when your head is about to explode, rather than lash out or snap, take a deep breath and explain your situation. Ask for their understanding—as well as some time to respond when your mind is clear. If someone knows what state of mind you’re in, they’ll be far more likely to empathize, which can change the tenor of a conversation and prevent hurt feelings (yours and theirs).
Terri Trespicio is an award-winning writer, speaker, and a long-time media expert on health and well-being. She was one of the early contributors to meQuilibrium, and her work has been featured on Dr. Oz, Oprah magazine, Prevention, and MindBodyGreen, among others. Find her on Twitter @TerriT.