The Art of Productive Procrastination

by Corey Philip //  June 30, 2019

We’ve all been in this situation: feeling the weight of needing to do a task, but the urge to skip it and do other less important things is stronger. Apparently, as soon as something is expected to get done, that’s when it gets harder to motivate yourself to do it. At least that’s the tendency for a lot of people.

Procrastination, though it hasn’t caused death—none that we know of, can be characterized as an epidemic that affects as many. Especially in this generation where there are too many stimuli and distractions, and people have a shorter attention span, it’s become more difficult to develop a sharp focus for something you don’t want to do in the first place.

While procrastination might seem like a purely sinister habit that will take an extremely strong will to overcome, it’s not bad all the time. In fact, it’s one of the most effective solutions to combat itself.

Productive procrastination is the positive opposite of mere procrastination. It’s your ticket to overcoming the latter and, if done right, you can even use it to develop a strong work ethic.

In this article, we’ll discuss how you can get to a point where procrastination becomes a good thing, but first we have to understand where this seemingly unbeatable habit roots from.

How Perfectionism Plays a Role Into Procrastination

The truth about procrastination is that it’s rarely about wanting to do other things as much as it is about wanting to do the actual task perfectly.

Perfectionism is often an underlying factor in why tasks are continually postponed until the last minute or never started. On a subconscious level, you want to avoid blame or shame for not accomplishing the task or producing an output according to other people’s high standards.

More often than not, it can possibly be your own set of high standards projected onto others in your mind. It’s actually just you thinking up excuses not to do something in fear of not measuring up.

As a result, you do nothing in relation to that task. Somehow, not having anything to associate your name to feels safer than producing something that can garner negative feedback or results.

What is Productive Procrastination and How It Can Break Your Procrastination Habits

We all have those things in life that we need to do but don’t want to. There are two kinds of this kind of work: the small chores that pave the way to the completion of the big task we were just talking about, or actual chores that will help us continue to live life as we should.

These tasks are called busywork. Either way, productive procrastination is the method to power through those small chores when we could think of a million other alternative things to do.

Productive procrastination is about tackling busywork that collectively contributes to the big task that you’re so afraid to mess up or daily to-dos that need to be checked off regularly. But what does it really entail?

Monotasking Busywork

Aside from perfectionism, procrastination can also be caused by overwhelm. Maybe there are too many steps before finally completing a big project or it seems too big for you to be qualified to do it. Now you’re not just procrastinating, you’re also overthinking.

The key is to target that overwhelm. When a million small things that need to be accomplished run through your mind, the only thing you can do is to focus on just one.

The mindset you should have is that that small step in the process is a complete job in itself, and with a razor-sharp focus for each one, you can finish a lot in less time and with less energy. When you tackle the tasks in this way, you are monotasking busywork.

Those small increments of work add up and before you know it, you’re finishing up your big project or you’re all caught up with chores that come with being an adult.

Monotasking regularly is a skill and doing it regularly will eventually lead you to find that zoned-in focus quickly every time you do work. That’s how productive procrastination develops in you a solid work ethic of getting things done.

The Goal of Productive Procrastination

00:56 What doing nothing means

01:13 What doing something means

01:59 The Structure of Passive and Active Choices

This video makes a good point of how we make choices every day. We’re always either doing something or doing nothing, and both can be an active or passive decision.

Passively doing nothing is where procrastination lies. In your attempt to avoid the thing that you need to do, you end up doing random things that don’t contribute anything to your work or life.

Actively doing something is the complete opposite. It’s peak of productivity. The amount of work you have to do is equal to the amount of energy you have to do it. However, being in this state all the time is exhausting and not at all realistic.

Actively doing nothing is the most enjoyable way to do nothing. You know you’re caught up to things you have to do and you’re indulging in well-deserved relaxation time.

Passively doing something is where productive procrastination falls under and is its ultimate goal. This is also where habits and routines are categorized in. Tasks are integrated into certain days or times, and you do it not because of a conscious decision to do it, but because it is what you’ve set yourself to do at a given time, place, and day.

In the end, you’re left with a strong sense of persistence, focus, and urgency that procrastination can hardly shake.

This is not to say that productive procrastination doesn’t have its bad aspects. After all, everything should be done in moderation. Being too wrapped up in busywork that you don’t actually finish up the big projects is also a possibility and where productive procrastination can be dangerously limiting to your success.

Other than that, in a general sense, productive procrastination is an effective way to reverse your bad procrastination habits and is a better strategy to handling overwhelm and burnout.

About the author

Corey Philip

Corey Philip is a small business owner / investor with a focus on home service businesses.

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