Productive procrastination: a guide to using your time well
If you’re not prone to procrastination from time to time, then you must be among the most productive people on the planet. If you’re honest with yourself, the temptation to quickly check social media during the work day or glance down at your phone is at times too irresistible to avoid.
What’s worse, every instance of procrastination during the work day can hurt your self-esteem. It can throw you off your game with less work completed, superiors bearing down on you, and even feelings of shame about tasks left unaccomplished.
What if there were a way for classic procrastinators to turn this feeling of unproductivity on its head?
What is productive procrastination?
Productive procrastination is what happens when you become aware of moments you’re distracted throughout the day and turn them into stepping stones to build momentum.
Rather than viewing productivity as a relentless pursuit of progress, you can choose to view it as a series of lily pads: your destination remains the same, but you can still hop to your left or right and land on safe ground with the right mindset.
It’s one of the best ways to take a negative and flip it into a positive; not only can you get the better of procrastination, but you can use your tendency to get distracted to your advantage. Each moment of distraction, rather than threatening to throw you off course, can instead serve as fuel for productivity.
If you can harness the power of structured procrastination, a term first coined by philosophy professor John Perry, you’ll be surprised at how much you can make of what time you have. Since time is one of our most valuable currencies in life, why wouldn’t you want to reclaim as much as possible during your work day?
Real-world examples of productive procrastination
In truth, any moment where you fall prey to distraction and feel the urge to procrastinate on an important task is a great opportunity to be productive.
Here are some real-world examples of structured procrastination in action:
The digital declutter
A simple yet incredibly effective way to reap the rewards of productive procrastination in your work life is to carry out the digital declutter.
Let’s say you’ve been working on a white paper demonstrating the efficacy of one of your company’s latest products. It’s a slog, and after several hours, your concentration levels begin to dip after several hours. Now, it seems inevitable: your willpower will fade, causing you to pick up your phone and risk falling down a rabbit hole of distractions.
However, there’s an alternative. As you notice your focus starts to fade, you can decide to productively procrastinate by organizing your online clutter. With a tool like the Stack spatial browser, you can categorize your apps with the Spaces feature so that when you’re working on projects, you can quickly move between them.
The email express
All aboard the email express; a one-way trip to inbox zero. If your online desk is clutter-free, why not spend a few minutes and reduce your cognitive load with a quick-fire round of email communication?
The next time your attention slips, you can take a break by firing off a few emails. The small victory can even give you a burst of dopamine which you can then channel into your white paper writing.
The to-do list ticker
Another excellent real-world example of productive procrastination is the to-do list ticker. Everyone loves the feeling of ticking off checklist boxes, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a task on your to-do list is a great incentive to use this as an opportunity for productive procrastination.
Make sure the tasks are trivial, so you don’t need to take more than a few minutes out of your day to accomplish them. For example, if you work from home, it could be as simple as loading/unloading the dishwasher or putting a wash on.
Tips to use productive procrastination effectively
Key productive procrastination strategies involve having the awareness to stop distraction in its tracks and replace it with an activity that feels productive. Here are three ways to try implementing productive procrastination into your work week:
Notice and act
To become a productive procrastinator, teach yourself to notice moments in which you’re distracted and take action as soon as you do. This adaptive behavior can soon yield rewards in the form of extra minutes of productivity, which add up over time.
If the urge to procrastinate is overwhelming, allow yourself to give in without the negative self-talk and harsh judgment. Simply make sure you focus the energy on a trivial task that requires little focus. The activities outlined above won’t take much time and can give you a dopamine hit that’ll help you get more work done.
Do something enjoyable
If you’re going to commit to structured procrastination, the incentive has to be there.
It’s no use telling yourself that you’ll pen a few hundred words of a report that’s due in a month every time you get distracted.
Come up with enjoyable but productive activities — this could be cleaning, organizing your desktop, or another small task that brings you joy.
Compile a task backlog
The last thing you want with productive procrastination is to spend time thinking about what to do, as this will lead to, you guessed it, real procrastination.
To avoid this, draw up a task backlog that you can pull up whenever the urge to procrastinate arises. Generally, you’ll want to populate this backlog with valuable work tasks, but if you work from home, personal tasks such as meal prep, house chores, and similar activities can also work well.
Tools to flip procrastination around
To experience the positive effects of these productive procrastination strategies, you’ll need some productivity tools that make it easier to choose the right activities:
Stack provides a simple solution for productive procrastination with a host of features to organize your online presence. Using Stack instead of your phone when you get distracted can ultimately save time by organizing your apps to minimize time spent scrolling through all your tabs and tools.
You can also set up useful shortcuts with the Switch feature, which will allow you to access everything from Slack to Gmail with a single click. It might also be worth using the Save Card feature to compile bookmarks of useful online resources that can help you with work-related tasks.
Project management tools
Project management tools are essential for creating custom workflows and managing your tasks effectively.
Say you use a software solution that has Kanban boards; you can make the most of this feature by setting up a list and titling it “productive procrastination.” In this list, you can add a series of tasks or action items that move the needle without requiring much in the way of cognitive resources.
For example, you could add one card for carrying out a digital declutter with Stack, another for cleaning up your desk, and another for sending out a batch of emails.
The project management tool itself offers opportunities for productive procrastination, too. Whether you use Trello, ClickUp, or another popular solution, the dashboard can soon become cluttered.
It’s hard to dedicate time to organizing your tasks and projects when you want to focus on the work itself, but if you allow yourself pockets of time for productive procrastination, you can go in and clean up the dashboard.
A digital calendar is an invaluable tool, and some would argue a necessity, whatever line of work you're in. It’s useful for viewing upcoming deadlines, showing future meetings, and mapping out key project milestones.
Yet, just like with project management software, sometimes the days and weeks roll by and you feel as if you haven’t had a chance to sit down and populate the calendar. As such, you feel like you’re always fighting a losing battle, in which you haphazardly add an event or two to your calendar when you have a spare minute.
If this sounds like you, one of the best things you can do is to take moments in which you’d usually procrastinate and use the time to fill out your calendar. That way, you’re still doing something productive, and in the long run, you’ll likely reduce your daily stress as there’ll be less of a chance of deadlines slipping by or meetings creeping up on you.
The art of productive procrastination is in your ability to reframe and review. If you can turn potential moments for procrastination into moments of resourceful activity, you could tap into a powerful source of productivity.
The next time you find yourself lost in an ocean of open tabs, open up your Stack spatial browser and get your digital clutter in order. A small task that may divert your attention from your main focus can represent a huge leap forward.
That’s the beauty of productive procrastination.
Request access to the Stack spatial browser now to turn your procrastination into productivity