Why we should all embrace procrastination

Don’t feel guilty for taking time to experiment with your tools

As any of my long-suffering editors will tell you, I have the attention span of an over-caffeinated squirrel. I tend to get distracted by things rather easily; in the before-times, colleagues on sister titles like Expert Reviews or the sadly departed Computer Shopper would frequently receive new pieces of shiny hardware, and I was inevitably compelled to go over and take a look at whatever it was.

This affliction also extends to software. If someone tweets about an interesting new app, tool or extension, I usually find myself downloading it and trying it out within minutes. In fact, I’ll often spend much of the next hour playing around with it, exploring the various settings and trying to get to grips with it. 

Whenever this happens, I end up berating myself over it, feeling guilty about ‘wasting time’ when I should be working on more productive tasks. I’ll spend some time with the new thing, and then abandon it in the fear that someone’s going to catch me ‘goofing off’ on work-time. Here’s the thing though, dear readers: Messing around with technology is an inherently productive act.

The tools we use on a day-to-day basis are stunningly complex, often with a huge array of intricate capabilities. Most of the time, we barely scratch the surface of what they can do, and there’s whole oceans of features that we may never even know about. It’s only by taking the time to experiment with software that we discover these functions, which can end up unlocking greater efficiency or adding more skills to our arsenal.

As a case in point, when I reviewed the Raspberry Pi 400 a few weeks ago, I spent a good hour or so trying to get it to run the desktop Spotify application. I was ultimately unsuccessful, but the trial-and-error process taught me more about Debian repositories, application dependencies and other elements of the Linux ecosystem than I had known previously, and as a result, I was subsequently able to adapt our in-house benchmark tools to run on Linux devices – something that had been causing us headaches for years. 

There’s countless other examples of things I’ve ‘wasted’ time experimenting with, only for them to come to my aid later down the line; familiarising myself with Windows shortcuts is something that’s saved me countless hours over the years, for instance, and I wouldn’t feel as comfortable with Slack if I hadn’t whiled away an afternoon exhaustively exploring all its various customisation and extension options.

Being more proficient with the applications and resources you use every day is never going to be a bad thing, even if it’s something as simple as a web browser or word processor. The more adept you are with your tools, the more productive you can be. And even if it doesn’t have a direct impact on your capability with a particular programme, simply immersing yourself in different technologies, interfaces and user experience models can give you a better understanding of how technology functions, and give you a more intuitive grasp of how to use it.

When we’re at work, we’re often under pressure to constantly complete tasks and meet goals – whether that pressure is being applied by the business or simply by ourselves. But it’s important to remember that, in the long run, it’s professional development and growth that ultimately makes for the most valuable employees, and there’s nothing wrong with taking that development into your own hands. 

So next time you find yourself starting to procrastinate, don’t fight it – channel it into something positive, and take a deeper look at the software you rely on. Explore, experiment, and expand your capabilities. And if your boss gives you any trouble, just send ‘em my way.

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