The Art of Productive Procrastination: You Still Procrastinate… But You Get a Lot More Done
Recently I was reflecting on my personal procrastination journey.
I was proud about how far I’d come when I realized something interesting:
It’s not that I don’t procrastinate anymore. It’s just that I procrastinate on a much higher level nowadays.
Today, I’d call myself a positive or productive procrastinator.
Let me explain…
My Procrastination Struggles… Then & Now
In the past, procrastinating was always a massive waste of time. I would play video games, eat junk food, binge-watch Game of Thrones, or nap for hours in the middle of the day.
Today, the time I spend procrastinating is almost always very productive. I read a book, hit the gym, go snorkeling, listen to a podcast while going for a walk, or organize my finances.
You see, I may not always have the willpower to work on my #1 priority, but at least I have the willpower to work on other high priority activities. Just because I don’t get the most important thing done doesn’t mean I can’t get anything done at all.
Over time, this makes a massive difference. Here’s how you can make it happen in your own life.
Step 1: Assign a Value Tag to Everything You Do
On a scale from one to ten, how valuable are typical activities in your life?
Check out some examples from my life:
- Meditation: 10
- Exercise: 10
- Reading: 9
- Writing: 9
- Answering emails: 4
- Checking emails: 2
- Organizing files: 3
- Watching Game of Thrones: 1
- Watching the news: 0
- Facebooking: 0
Some of these numbers will fluctuate on an hourly, daily, or monthly basis. Taking a shower may become a nine or ten after exercise. Grocery shopping drops to a one after a trip to the supermarket. Writing your essay becomes more and more important the closer the deadline comes.
The point is, you want to know which activities are how valuable at any given moment. Once you know that, it’s time for step two.
Step 2: Play Activities Off Against Each Other
Let’s say you should study for your upcoming exams, but you can’t get yourself to do it. What now? Well, look at your list of activities and see if there’s another valuable task you could be working on instead. Maybe clean your room, do the laundry, or hit the gym.
This way, you’re getting things done and your to-do list is getting shorter and shorter despite procrastinating.
Sure, it’s not a perfect solution, but at least you’re being productive in some way. Besides that, there are many additional benefits to this type of procrastination…
The Benefits of Positive Procrastination
It’s obvious this type of constructive procrastination is superior to distracting ourselves with televisions, smartphones, or comfort zones.
Here are three tangible benefits of productive procrastination:
- You get a lot done. You can get a surprising amount of stuff done with a dreaded task looming in the background of your mind. As procrastination researcher Dr. Piers Steel says: “Behavioral psychologists would point out that we are willing to pursue any vile task as long as it allows us to avoid something worse.”
- You build momentum, confidence, and belief in yourself. Being productive helps you create an upward spiral of success, confidence, optimism, and self-efficacy. You may even find yourself with enough momentum to get started on the task you’re originally procrastinating on.
- You feel less guilty. You’re actually accomplishing stuff, which reduces the amount of guilt you’re likely to experience. This, in turn, helps you face the #1 priority task sooner because you’re experiencing less negative emotions. (For more on that, check out my book.)
Examples From My Personal Life
I use productive procrastination all the time in my life.
Yesterday morning, for example, I “should” have written an article on the best books on procrastination. I was a bit low on energy because I’d just spent two hours fixing several website issues. So instead of writing the article, I decided to go grocery shopping first (needed to get done anyway). When I came back, I still didn’t feel like writing the article, so I decided to go snorkeling (productive break). Back from snorkeling, I finally felt like I had enough energy. The result? I got the article done. #Winning.
Sometimes, I don’t feel like working on my online businesses at all. Usually I just break through the resistance, find a way to get started, and then feel the motivation building along the way. Occasionally, however, I just decide to productively procrastinate. I don’t do any difficult work and instead focus on other activities, such as meditation, yoga, reading, getting stuff organized, making phone calls, etc.. While not my top priorities, these activities still make for an incredibly productive day.
The key is to have a set of activities that you know you can engage in whenever you don’t have the motivation or willpower to follow through on the top priorities.
Positive procrastination is a great little trick to get things done in spite of struggling with procrastination.
It’s a good skill to add to your anti-procrastination arsenal.
Other skills include: self-compassion, releasing guilt, building self-discipline, or beating resistance.
Now I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you engage in productive procrastination? If so, what are your favorite ways to do so? Let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading.
More On Overcoming Procrastination
Check out some of our other articles on the topic:
- How to Overcome Severe Procrastination – My Personal Story
- How to Stop Procrastinating: 33 Proven Tactics – Backed by Science
- Overcoming Procrastination: Why Mindfulness is The Key
And for a complete system to kick your procrastination habit, check out my book here.
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