Can Procrastination Be Productive?

Well, I have more thoughts on the matter, so here it is. A blog post in which I’ll attempt to continue the discussion on motivation and procrastination we started earlier this month. Today I’ll attempt to break down “procrastination” a little, and focus on a difference many of us struggle to make: the contrast between productive and restless procrastination. Restless and productive. Dead or alive.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. Procrastination, by definition, is not productive. Trying to find a point where it can be is a waste of time. One should do away with procrastination entirely; it is only by discarding it that we can unlock our true potential.

False. Just false. Should I have chosen a different word than “procrastination” for this purpose? Possibly. Will reading this be procrastinating on your part? Almost definitely. You’re doing it instead of something else. But will it be a form of productive procrastination? That’s what you’re going to find out, I suppose.

Regardless, today I aim to try and deconstruct what we traditionally associate with “procrastination” and provide a better handle for the term. I’m here to convince you not to look at it like this:

And rather to consider this:

Again, a caveat: You are procrastinating by reading this blog post. But is it productive procrastination? Is the entire reason I’m linking these terms just to stop you feeling guilty when on Goblin Opinions? I suppose that’s for me to know and you to theorize about.

Now, down to the serious stuff.

Defining “Productive Procrastination”

Where do the circles on the Venn diagram meet? What is the common ground? Here are some features of productive procrastination:

  • It will generally help you to feel better rested
  • It won’t be a time to worry. Thoughts can be reflective of your work, but this isn’t a time to agonize.
  • It will be something you schedule and not something that you do whenever you feel like it.

It’s important to note that procrastination, by definition, means the act of postponing something. The point I’m trying to get across is that whether you’re being productive depends not upon whether you’re doing your most important task, but rather that you’re doing something fulfilling. That said, moderation is key.

So when should you procrastinate productively?

Productive Procrastination as Reward

Rewarding ourselves with productive procrastination is rarely a bad idea. After a long day’s work, are you missing out unless you continue to be “productive” until the minute you fall asleep?

Absolutely not. As you’ve doubtless been told before, you need to rest.

As we’ve discussed, there are ways to rest that will still help you to maintain a healthy and positive environment (despite not doing what the average person might consider “work”), and ways that will only serve to the negative. The latter kind will rarely help you to actually rest, and will often fuel negative thoughts and unproductive habits during the day. These will not help you to start the next day refreshed; eventually, you may not even consider them rewards. A reward is something for which you plan. A reward is something you work toward. It generally isn’t a good idea to procrastinate before you’ve done anything else.

Library, Books, Tv, Multimedia, Room, Modern, Interior

Let’s return to defining productive procrastination for a moment. That’s our goal here, after all, and the main point of what I’m trying to get at. The rest is method and moderation. Its worth noting that you shouldn’t be too strict on what falls into the category of restless procrastination, and I’m not saying there’s anything you should really quit altogether.

Whatever it is, moderation is key. I’m not going to give you a hard and fast list of what is productive and what is not—ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which is which. If you want to make such a list, first try writing down all the ways in which you procrastinate. If you’re not sure what activities count as procrastination, they’re things you do that don’t further progress in an area on which you are dependent.

Here are a few questions to consider when deciding if an activity is productive. Ask yourself if the activity…

  • Makes you feel more restful once it’s over.
  • Teaches you something.
  • Strengthens your relationships with others.

The stoics say to try and learn something from everyone. Similarly, you want to try and learn something from every experience. While this certainly isn’t a law each productive activity has to stand by, it can help to form a groundwork of what you consider to be fulfilling.

Is this activity…

  • Something I have already gotten the most out of?
  • Something that will put others off me? (Important follow-up: Are those the kind of people I want to be around? Are they the people that will help me to grow as a person?)
  • Something I know will only make me want to consume more? (Again, a follow up: if it falls under this condition, it’s less important that you stop doing it than that you do it in moderation. Obviously there are exceptions, such as smoking, but for the most part, these things can be really enjoyable and relaxing, and moderating your time with them will help you be able to better deal with a whole range of things beyond just the given activity. Often, ending such things outright will do more harm than good.)
  • Something that contradicts a philosophy I enforce unto others?

If it’s any of these things, you may want to consider putting it in the “restless procrastination” category. Again, this doesn’t mean to quit altogether—but hold these activities equally in moderation, and allow yourself them only on occasion. Productive procrastination can be something you return to regularly, while restless procrastination is like sugar. The less you consume, the better.

Simple vs. complex carbs can be used as an effective metaphor for the two types of procrastination.

Plan your productive procrastination

This doesn’t require much explanation, and has mostly already been covered. Don’t procrastinate sporadically, regardless of whether or not you’re being productive. Have a pattern, have a schedule, find what works for you, and stick to it.

I personally like to schedule in hour blocks. You’ve probably been told a whole range of things in this area: schedule in 20-minute chunks, no, 40 minute chunks, etc. I think an hour is fine. An hour is enough time for the entire cycle of work to commence—within it, you can sit down, get into the right headset, concentrate, and finish, all while knowing there’s an end in sight. In this case, the “end” can be your productive procrastination. If you do this, I think the time you spend recuperating will be all the more satisfactory.

Hustle culture and self-help these days have become so caught up with the idea of eliminating all procrastination, to an extent that anyone who watches/reads those things feels guilty for taking a break. Don’t feel guilty. Just moderate. Hold yourself accountable. Rest. Reflect. And then get back to work.

In the end, I don’t know what’s going on in your life. But you do. And that’s where your job starts.

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