Just about everyone I know is a procrastinator on some level. Going by Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000-Hour Rule”, basically every college student is an expert procrastinator. But procrastination doesn’t mean putting off work forever and never doing it. For most people (even college students!), work that gets put off must eventually get done. From this perspective, the real masters of putting off work are those who still manage to get everything done and done well. Luckily, there are some simple productivity techniques that can make your procrastination work for you.
Accept that Procrastination Can Be Good For You
In our culture, we tend to vilify procrastination as the antithesis of productivity. When done correctly, however, procrastination can help you focus in on your goals, gain clarity on what’s important, and boost your creativity. Getting all the benefits you can out of your break time means actually learning how to procrastinate.
Procrastinating for Productivity
Effective procrastination is built around “active procrastination” or “productive procrastination” techniques. Strategies can include restructuring your tasks so that in putting off some work you actually get other valuable tasks done. You might also try pitting your task against your own boredom. (“You don’t have to write that email, but you can’t do anything else.”) Or you could default to certain helpful tasks, like organizing. In fact, active procrastination is often so productive that many people wouldn’t even call it procrastination. Here are some go-to strategies from success experts.
1Get Your Head Right
So often we dive into a project with little direction. Give yourself time before and during a project to step back, organize your thoughts or actions, and get clarity on what parts of the task are important. This doesn’t have to be terribly formal, either. It can be as simple as clearing the clutter on your desk for focus or clearing the clutter in your planner to decide what’s a priority. It can mean having a coffee and actively thinking about your approach to a problem or job. Whatever it is for you, do that thing that allows you to get your head on straight.
Sometimes it can feel like you’re juggling a million and one things at a time. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it is worth separating all your tasks, correctly prioritising each one and then resuming action. Doing this can clear things up in your mind and leave you feeling less overwhelmed. —Jörgen Sundberg, Link Humans and Undercover Recruiter
2Embrace the Time Crunch
One of the reasons procrastination is appealing to people is that it creates the needed additional stress to push us to complete tasks or projects. The added pressure of limited time can help us focus and prioritize better. So, let yourself wait until (almost) the last moment.
I have tried many things in the past to get work done: to-do lists, diarying the stuff that I need to do, Pomodoro. However, the best thing I have found so far is the ‘Just in Time’ method of working. You know there is a task to do by a certain date. Two days before the date you spend all your time getting it done, depends on how big the task is of course.
For instance, I had a program where I needed to make 15 videos. I would normally do this over a span of 3-4 weeks. However, I spent 2 days, before the program went live, and completed the videos. This way you’ve got pressure, you’ve got a commitment, and you’ve got the added bonus of not overthinking things, you get out of your own way and just get it done. —Stephen Aitchison, Change Your Thoughts—Change Your Life
3Procrastinate by Getting Your Foot in the Door
Having trouble getting to the gym or writing that blog post? Let yourself procrastinate or dwell on one small step of that process. If you need to head for a workout, allow yourself to spend some time prepping your gym bag (once it’s all ready you’re more likely to go). Need to get the blog post done? Spend some time getting your space right or simply crafting the thesis.
The hardest part of anything is starting, and 9 times out of 10 if I start I can carry myself through and get a lot done. That other one time, where I still can’t do anything? That’s when I know I should just go do something fun and try again later. —Sean Ogle, Location 180
4Make Sure You’re the Best Person for the Job
Procrastination allows you to pause and look critically at a project. Taking time to critically analyze what parts of the project are holding you back might help you understand whether or not you are the best person for the task.
Procrastination is a gift. It allows you an opportunity to assess if you are the right person to work on that task or strategy. Overcoming procrastination only takes 15 minutes. If you are really avoiding something you need to ask yourself: Is this something I MUST do?
Productive procrastination isn’t necessarily the best fit for everyone. Depending on your situation, you may have better luck nipping procrastination in the bud. There are literally as many approaches to managing procrastination as there are people, and no one is always right. So, it’s important to think critically about your work, goals, and priorities when planning for your productivity.
How do you manage procrastination? Are there any tips you would add?
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