The Value of Delay

You’re reading this post right now, but I wrote it some six weeks ago. Initially, the 30-day buffer was meant for sick days and other unforeseen events, but so far, I haven’t missed a day — 500 and counting — and so it has even grown a little over time. There’s a lesson in here about some days offering enough creativity to write two, three, even five blogs, yet no day offering so little that you can’t write even one, but the one I just learned is this: Delay has value.

If I had to post every blog the second I type the last word, there’d be no time to change a headline or cut a sentence. Even if I rarely do, the lag not only makes reflection possible but comfortable. It’s easy. I’m not in a rush. I don’t have to stress. Maybe I’ll change my mind. Maybe I won’t. But for six weeks, I can let the post simmer, and if it resurfaces in my mind, perhaps it’s time to revisit.

A friend of mine just got his new electricity bill: 51 cents per kWh. That price, however, is also delayed. It resembles the peak of the German energy crisis, and since then, prices have already come down. My friend observed this delay and already switched to a power company where he pays roughly half — a more forward-looking energy provider. That adds another shade to this lesson: For delay to be valuable, it must be deliberate. It’s easy to look at current gas prices and say, “Oh, no problem, the electricity price will also come down” — but only if you know there’s a lag between the two. If my friend hadn’t known about a lagging but impending price increase, he couldn’t have switched providers. Awareness is what makes the delay useful. Without it, you’re just ignorant or procrastinating.

If you think six weeks is a long time to shelve a piece of writing, that’s exactly how much time Stephen King recommends between two drafts of a novel, and it’s also how long it takes until I look back on each month’s output for my twice-monthly “Best of the Blog” email. But if your deadline for the slides is the end of next week, an extra day or two will do. If you’re hoping to marry whoever you just moved in with, however, perhaps another six months are in order. Different situations require different amounts of delay, but almost every situation warrants some kind of suspension.

Choose your wait times wisely, and you’ll never hit send too soon.