When ‘Bad’ Behavior is Good

Weeks ago, your boss asked you to produce a mock-up for a re-branding campaign. You’ve found the time to reorganize your files and seek “inspiration” at your favorite website but haven’t yet managed to address his request. Now your manager wants to know how soon he can have it, and from his manner you can tell he’s a little annoyed at having to wait. What you’ve considered “recharging,” your boss sees as procrastination. However, with an imminent deadline hanging over you, you end up creating a piece he’s thrilled with, thriving on the last-minute pressure.

Procrastination and other behaviors such as a having a messy desk, over-socializing or finger-pointing are generally considered unbecoming on the job. Though these actions have significant downsides and must be curtailed at times, in some cases they can actually produce positive effects. Let’s take a look at when they’re good, when they’re bad and when they’re just plain ugly.

You’re disorganized. Some believe a messy desk means you also have a messy mind. But a little clutter—within reason, of course—can foster the creative process. Most creatives are visual: You seek inspiration through images and words, so when faced with a perfectly clean desk, your mind may be equally blank. As long as your office isn’t a veritable fortress of paper and files—no one can be innovative or effective in such an environment—it’s OK to be surrounded by a plethora of things. These piles could also serve as a visual “to do” list, so no projects slip between the cracks.

You’re a “tattler.” While most finger-pointers get a bad rap in grade school, they often come into their own in adulthood. Consider what would have happened if an employee at Enron hadn’t said anything. The trick is to figure out what’s worth reporting and what’s not. For instance, if you and a colleague occasionally bicker but manage to work well together anyway, your boss probably doesn’t need to know. Sometimes, though, it’s important to inform your manager of a work problem: if an issue will affect a deadline or if someone’s output is consistently substandard, for example. It’s your supervisor’s responsibility to solve these matters and help you and your coworkers function more efficiently. So, if she doesn’t know about the types of obstacles you’re encountering, she’s not going to be able to do her job. She also may be upset if she finds out that you didn’t approach her with a problem that could affect morale or productivity.

You’re a socializer. As long as you limit yourself to a few minutes here and there, it’s fine to socialize at work. Informal conversations encourage camaraderie; and when you spend eight hours a day with coworkers, it makes sense that you’d have more than a passing interest in their lives. You also may gain insight into a particular project or a certain client’s taste that will help you produce better work. Just don’t become a person who can’t wait to share the latest developments in his love life—on an hourly basis. It’s unprofessional—not to mention unproductive—to spend an exorbitant amount of time talking about your personal life. Catch up on these updates at lunch or after work.

You’re a procrastinator. Like the example in the introduction, sometimes procrastination can lead to inspired work. A lot of procrastinators thrive when under the gun. If you can work this way and still meet your deadlines, go ahead and procrastinate. However, if you’re frequently late in delivering projects or holding up coworkers, you need to ease up on the foot dragging. Serious procrastinators should consider their motivations: For example, do you put off completing projects because you’re afraid of failing? Is it a way of asserting control where you feel you have none? If either of these statements sounds more than a little familiar, it’s time to make a change.

We all know there’s no one right way to do most things. In fact, some of us excel by taking the road less traveled. As long as you keep your “bad” behaviors in check, focus on producing the best work you can, and not on changing who you are.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and Web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms. For more information, visit www.creativegroup.com.

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