How to Procrastinate like a Pro
Just get it done. Stop avoiding work. Roll up your sleeves and jump in there. We hear a lot of that these days. Productivity experts describe people who put things off as lazy, scared, or crazy.
Sure, some people need a swift kick in the backside. Others need confidence and encouragement.
But maybe it’s also healthy to procrastinate, if you do it the right way.
If you’re like me, you put things off all the time. Some tasks have to wait until the right moment. Your brain might tell you to go ahead and start a project now, but you shouldn’t. Usually for a good reason.
You need a break first
More studies show that true productivity requires plenty of rest. The 40 or 50-hour work week has come apart under scrutiny.
Everyone has their own time zone. Your best performance might happen in the morning. Someone else might do their best work at night. A good employer doesn’t force everyone into the same schedule. They plan around people’s peek productivity.
Likewise, you can’t expect yourself to always be “ready to go.” You shouldn’t have to wait for Friday night to recharge.
Sometimes, you might need a Tuesday afternoon off. Especially if you worked all weekend on a project.
This happens to me a lot. Certain people might think I’m lazy because I go for a hike in the middle of the week. Or spend a Thursday afternoon reading a book “for pleasure,” i.e. not directly related to my job. But I don’t take breaks for their own sake. I take them with purpose.
If I have free time during the normal work week, that’s because I already met all my immediate goals. I’ve graded all my papers and submitted my annual review report. I’ve taught my classes. Do I really need to immediately start planning tomorrow’s lessons? Not really.
Some of us have managed to escape the direct pressure of a 9–5 work culture. It means I can rest when necessary. The rest of the world is starting to catch onto to this strategy.
Something else needs attention
Imagine you’ve sat down and rolled up your sleeves. You’re ready to dive into whatever project you wanted to prioritize. But wait. Your office looks a little dusty. Your books aren’t shelved properly.
You start thinking about other stuff piled up in your to-do list. Laundry. Car wash. Groceries. Gym.
Your chair feels a little wobbly.
We often think of procrastination as a coping mechanism. We seek out minor tasks to distract us from work we don’t want to do. Running errands helps us avoid the fear and intimidation of an overwhelming project.
The motivation coaches tell us we’re not really hungry. We just wanted that sandwich because we’re procrastinating. To them, we’re sad and broken. Hardly deserving of our ill-timed trip to Panera.
The truth is more complicated.
Maybe you’re seeking distractions because you shouldn’t actually be working on that project yet.
Maybe you actually should replace your wobbly chair before committing to several hours of deep work.
Imagine how irritating wobbly office furniture can get. A few weeks ago, I finally took a break in the middle of my day to hunt down a new chair with better lumbar support. It broke up my day, and might’ve looked like procrastination to someone else.
But it was worth the disruption.
A better chair always leads to better thinking.
Running errands isn’t procrastination
Forcing yourself to do work when you’d rather be cleaning doesn’t make you a more productive person.
It just makes you a slave to your project.
Your instinct to wipe down your monitor, restock your printer paper, or organize your bookshelf might be spot on. You might even be justified in buying groceries. Or washing your car. If that stuff’s on your mind, then just doing it might save more time in the long run.
Imagine how many times you’ve wasted an afternoon huffing at your desk, starting and stopping on some report you thought you’d knock out. You keep thinking about other stuff on your to-do list, then reading some inspirational quotes before forcing yourself back to work.
You wind up spending three hours on a task that looked easy, and make zero progress. Only then do you finally give in. You slam your laptop closed and storm off to the gym.
You should’ve led with that move.
If you’re stuck, it might have nothing to do with your work ethic. You just weren’t prepared to focus. Allowing yourself to take care of all those little things can free you up to concentrate later.
Embrace your attention deficit
Everyone can feel like they have ADD at times. Random thoughts keep flying at you from a dozen directions. Meanwhile, you’re trying to direct your attention to one thing.
You don’t always need yoga and meditation. Maybe you just need a notepad at your desk. Or a simple note-taking app like Google Keep.
Usually, I can focus on one thing for hours. Other times, random thoughts bombard me. Spend a few minutes in my head, and you might think I was possessed by three ghosts with multiple personalities.
When I’m answering emails, a random inner voice says, “You really should’ve pressured washed your deck last month.”
Another voice says, “Wouldn’t it be cool if you changed all the fonts on your resume?”
And a third voice says, “You’re almost out of eyeliner.”
When that happens, I just tab over to my to-do list or pull out my phone. I make a note. Now I can return to work.
I’ve never been the kind of person who gets lost in The Internet. But sometimes you wonder what Christina Ricci’s done lately.
If your brain starts asking too many random questions, it’s a sign that something else is off. Not with you. With your project. Something isn’t clicking the way it should. Otherwise, you’d be more interested in your work than celebrity tweets.
When I get that distracted, I don’t just turn off my Internet. That doesn’t help. Your brain can always find distractions when you’re not truly interested in what you’re doing.
The reason you’re procrastinating
If you’re googling Christina Ricci, you need help. Maybe you’re not lazy or scared. Maybe your project is boring.
That means you need to rethink your entire purpose.
Ask why you’re so bored with what you’re doing. Is it taking too long? Is it not that important after all? Does it matter more to someone else than you? Is there a faster, easier way to finish this work?
I’ve noticed that when I’m procrastinating, the answer lies somewhere in those questions. If I’m writing an article, then my main argument just isn’t that novel. Or I haven’t found the real payoff in my project — that observation or connection that makes everything else matter.
Other times, I procrastinate because I’m doing one of the crappy parts of my job — something tedious and time-consuming. That’s when I start experimenting with strategies and tools to make it go faster.
Either way, procrastination actually helps. It slows me down and makes me reconsider key aspects of my projects. If I banished my procrastination, then I’d probably turn in subpar work. My “productivity” might go up on a superficial level, but there would be no point.
The Myth of Productivity
We’d all like to be that person who makes use of every minute. The entrepreneur who keeps moving and never misses a beat. Or we think we do. But in truth, we don’t.
We’ve come to think of daydreaming and Internet surfing as bad habits. But we still do all that, and wind up feeling guilty.
We think if we housebreak our minds, we’ll get more done. We punish ourselves for “giving in” to our distractions.
But procrastination is a key to getting things done. You shouldn’t always feel bad about delaying a project in order clean out your to-do list. The problem was that you didn’t do that earlier.
Procrastination can alert you to the vital prep work you skipped over. That prep work might’ve been background research, rest, or just tidying up parts of your life so you feel organized and prepared.
You shouldn’t just tolerate your procrastination. You should acknowledge it. Procrastination isn’t a problem to be solved. It’s a normal part of the creative process. Stop fighting it, and go with your flow.