Do you procrastinate? If your answer is yes, you’re far from alone. In fact, procrastination can come in many forms. But what if you could leverage your natural tendency to procrastinate to become even more productive?
That’s what the concept of productive procrastination (also known as “structured procrastination”) is all about.
In this article, you’ll learn what productive procrastination is, why it can be helpful to keep you going, and some simple examples of productive procrastination.
What’s The Benefit Of Productive Procrastination?
The concept of productive procrastination takes your tendency to do anything other than the task at hand— and inserts more productive activities into that space. The idea is that if you’re going to procrastinate anyway, you may as well do something that moves some other area of your life forward.
Sometimes sitting down to a big task is just too overwhelming. Your brain starts to fog over, you get antsy, and it all just feels like too much. And as a human, the natural response to this discomfort is to deflect and focus your attention on something else.
Unfortunately, that something else is often a rabbit hole on social media, a video game you can’t put down, or a trip to the kitchen to see what you might have to snack on.
If you want to make your procrastination tendencies work for you, instead of against you, productive procrastination is a hack that can keep you on top of your work and other tasks that you tend to put off.
When you’re in procrastination mode, it’s not that you decide to put off writing an essay that’s due tomorrow and instead stare at the wall. Much more likely, you fill your procrastinating time with activities like scrolling on social media, watching Netflix, surfing the web for clothing you don’t need, and so on.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Interestingly, what people have found is that procrastinators put off timely tasks because they are important. It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s just the way the brain works. If a task holds a lot of weight, any other task will look more appealing to the procrastinator. In this way, everything becomes relative to its weight and importance.
For instance, you may strongly dislike the act of folding your laundry, but when you sit down to write an essay, that big pile of laundry all of a sudden looks much more appealing. Your mind says, “Well, before I start this essay, I could fold that laundry.” This is a perfect example of productive procrastination.
The difference between productive procrastination and unproductive procrastination is the activity. In the example above, something of value gets accomplished. If, however, you decide to hold off on your essay to play video games, you’ve found yourself in an unproductive procrastination activity.
Productive procrastination not only helps you get more done during your day, but when scheduled strategically, it can motivate you to work on tasks that you typically tend to avoid.
The keyword here, however, is strategic. Knowing which tasks you need to do during the day and when you’re most likely to do them can be very helpful. Productive procrastination can happen organically, but a little planning can make a big difference in how you spend your procrastination time.
How To Engage In Productive Procrastination
Productive procrastination can easily become good old classic procrastination if you don’t bring mindful awareness to the activities you’re engaging in. For instance, it may feel “important” to reorganize your closet when you’re faced with a bigger task like studying for a test. However, if you really ask yourself if it’s necessary to reorganize your closet, you may find that the answer is no. That is unless your closet is a mess.
On the other hand, tasks like emptying the dishwasher or taking your clothes out of the dryer are necessary for daily life— these are much more useful activities than closet reorganization.
You also want to choose productive procrastination tasks that won’t drain you too much or take up too much time for the big task you’re putting off. For instance, if you have to go to the DMV and know that this task is going to take at least three hours, and you have work that’s due by the end of the day, the DMV is likely not the task to go with.
As mentioned, planning ahead a little, or at least getting to know your procrastination tendencies, can be very helpful. Some people find they do their best work once they’re more alert mid-morning. If this is you, instead of sitting down at 8:00 am to start working on a project, you could procrastinate during the morning with some household chores to get you going, then sit down around 11 am or so.
Similarly, if you tend to hit a wall around 2 pm after lunch and your mind starts wandering over to social media, this would be a great time to schedule a productive procrastination break and check off some of your to-do’s.
Switching Gears May Be Your “Reset” Button
In general, productive procrastination activities should leave you feeling more refreshed, not drained. While engaging in these activities, you’re giving your mind a little rest from the bigger tasks you’re putting off and creating space to come back with new energy. When you spend this time productively instead of unproductively, it gets the ball rolling. You feel good when you check something off your list, which will give you a little extra motivation to continue the productive flow.
It’s also important that the task you give yourself is somewhat mundane. The reason for this is that when you’re a little bored, your mind gets more space and you can return to your task with more available attention. In fact, research shows that boredom actually leads to more creativity.https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271991375_Does_Being_Bored_Make_Us_More_Creative.
The productive tasks that work best for you will be unique to you, but below are some simple and common productive activities you can try out when procrastination starts to kick in.
2 Minute Productive Procrastination Activity Examples
- Check the mailbox
- Organize your desktop
- Sweep the kitchen floor
- Scrub a toilet
- Unsubscribe from 10 junk mail lists
5 Minute Productive Procrastination Activity Examples
- Empty the dishwasher
- Clean your bathtub
- Throw out old food from the refrigerator
- Pay bills or set up autopay
- Do a short yoga sequence
10 Minute Productive Procrastination Activity Examples
- Fold your laundry and put it away
- Plan your meals for the next few days
- Read and respond to emails that need attention
- Go for a quick power walk
- Do a quick 10-minute mindfulness meditation
Longer Productive Procrastination Activities
- Clean your car
- Get your daily workout in
- Clean the bathroom
- Clean the kitchen
- Meal prep for the week
- Get an oil change
Potential Downsides of Productive Procrastination
When using productive procrastination, there are some potential downsides to be aware of.
- You may eat up your time. Productive procrastination should only take up a relatively short amount of time. As in the example above with the DMV, if your procrastination task means you can’t complete another important task on time, it’s not a good choice.
- You could feel more stressed. Depending on the importance of the task at hand, any type of procrastination may lead to increased stress and anxiety. If you have a project due at the end of the day and you try to engage in productive procrastination, you may end up just making the stress worse.
- Procrastination may be habit-forming. Depending on how you do it, procrastination can lead to more procrastination (even if it’s productive). Have you ever started cleaning your room, and then felt compelled to move on to the bathroom, then the kitchen, then the living room, and so on? It starts to feel absolutely necessary to polish every tile on the floor when you get into a flow like this— but that’s still procrastination.
This is why it’s essential to use productive procrastination mindfully and not let yourself get carried away in unproductive tasks.
Procrastination gets a bad rap, but in reality, almost everyone does it to some extent, and there are ways to leverage this mental trap to your benefit.
When you engage in productive procrastination, you’re giving yourself the go-ahead to take a minute (or more) and recenter. It can be very overwhelming to sit down to a big task, so allowing your mind some space before you dive in can make a world of difference.
After engaging in a productive procrastination activity, most people find that they feel more called to continue with their productive flow and compelled to get to work.
With that being said, productive procrastination can be a trap if you don’t use it right. Be sure to set time limits on your procrastination activities, and don’t choose a task that will make it impossible for you to complete the more important to-do’s.