Procrastination is universally bad… or is it?
Well, not if you ask me. Because I procrastinate. A lot.
It’s just a matter of knowing what to procrastinate on, and why.
Not sure what I mean? Let me introduce you to productive procrastination and why it’s a must in your creative efforts.
A Bias Towards Productive Procrastination
I admit. I have a bit of a bias towards productive procrastination.
Emails are responded to late. Bill payments are made at the last minute. My space only gets a thorough cleaning twice per year.
And this has had certain drawbacks, though not the ones you would expect. I don’t have terrible credit. People aren’t constantly on my case about unfinished projects (I finish most if not all on time). And my home is not infested with creepy crawlers.
The main drawback is there are always tasks on my to-do list that take up too much mind space and cause light anxiety if left unfinished. But because they are low priority, I procrastinate on them.
Then, there are some decisions that could have been made that you regret not making. When you use productive procrastination as a tool, your default position is omission. But there’s always that social event you wish you went to, that friend you should have helped, that rare opportunity you missed.
Well, you can’t do it all anyway. And if you’re an ambitious creative, you shouldn’t aspire to. It takes too much work, you don’t get the things you want to get done, and it can even lead to burnout.
If you’re the type that needs to know everything in advance, and things hanging in the balance drive you nuts, productive procrastination probably isn’t for you. But otherwise, it has certain benefits that are hard to deny.
What is Productive Procrastination?
It’s about leaving the less important, low value tasks until later (and in some cases, “never”).
You’ve got to be clear on what low value tasks are to you. To me, emails, texts, voicemails, errands, paying bills, and the like all tend to fall under this category. It doesn’t mean I don’t deal with them. It just means they don’t come first in my day, or even my week.
There are a couple of books that can add a meaningful layer to this conversation.
The first is Stephen Covey’s classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (affiliate link). Covey’s famous four quadrants form the foundation of my prioritization and productivity habits. You can Google “Covey’s four quadrants” to get a good sense of how this works.
The second is Tim Ferriss’ essential, The 4-Hour Workweek, which details how Ferriss was able to run a business as he was traveling the world. And you will find productive procrastination at work in a major way, especially as applied to communication.
Ferriss points out that most communication isn’t an emergency, so getting to it later or never has fewer consequences than you might be inclined to believe.
Now, I said that you should be clear on what low value tasks are to you. But this is of little consequence if you don’t know the opposite – tasks you would consider high value.
Writing is my highest value task, and, true to form, it shows up first in my calendar too. My day begins with writing because it is just that important, so I give it the best part of my day. And all other things can wait until I’m done writing.
Why Procrastinate Productively?
The old model of productivity (productivity 1.0) was just getting things done. And getting things done is a good starting point. It’s worth getting some practice in this area if you’re new to it.
But what people realized was that even though they were getting a lot done, a lot of important things weren’t even being touched. If anything, the urgent seemed to take over available time for the important.
So, then came productivity 2.0. This proliferated in many forms – Covey’s four quadrants, Priority Management, Brian Tracy’s The Science of Self-Confidence (affiliate link), and so on.
In productivity 2.0, we saw a movement towards getting the right things done and prioritizing high value tasks in one’s day. People noticed that, if it wasn’t scheduled, it wasn’t real. So, they started putting everything in their schedule.
Productivity 2.0 strove to put the important back on main stage.
The main drawback of productivity 2.0 was that people ended up working insane hours just to fit everything in! And this led to a net productivity loss, because by midweek, they’d be all out of steam.
To be fair, some managed to find a meaningful balance, and 2.0 was certainly better than the original model.
Productivity 3.0 is where productive procrastination started to show signs. David Allen’s Getting Things Done (affiliate link) methodology, lifestyle design as taught by the likes of Tim Ferriss and James Schramko, and more. Finally, life was put in its rightful place again – taking center stage.
With 3.0 arrived the age of creating the life of your choosing. Many opted for a life of joy and balance, though, and it was available through rigorous systemization.
Productivity 4.0 is doing everything by intuition. Listening to your heart and doing things that feel like a 10 out of 10 instead of a four, seven, or eight. Vishen Lakhiani and Kyle Cease are both proponents of 4.0.
But getting back to the question, the main reason to procrastinate productively is so you can face the blank screen or canvas and finally do the work that matters.The main reason to procrastinate productively is so you can face the blank screen or canvas and finally do the work that matters. Click To Tweet
Facing the Fear
At first, productive procrastination will probably seem lazy or maybe even fun. But then you realize it’s something else completely. It’s about facing your fears.
Because there’s something scary about launching that course, finishing that album, writing that book, or otherwise.
You probably don’t even realize that fear is the reason you’ve been putting it off. Until you’ve blocked out all distractions and given yourself space to work on what you say is important to you, you aren’t even present to it.
Now that you’ve created the space, you realize you’ve got to face the fear to move forward.
In this case, though, the fear is telling you that you are on the right track. If you felt indifferent, or normal, or sterile, you would probably be working on something that amounts to thumb twiddling.
If you feel fear, you are working on something that has the potential to matter. And it will most certainly matter to you, even if it doesn’t matter to anyone else.If you feel fear, you are working on something that has the potential to matter. Click To Tweet
Productive procrastination is powerless if not used to face the fear. If you’re not going to do the hard work, you may as well go and check easy items off your to-do list and be happy that you did.
Productive procrastination can help you focus on what matters. Just know that this often means facing fears connected to your creative projects.
Some people find putting less important things off until later a little scary, so it’s probably not a prudent strategy for those who are easily triggered by disorganization and incompletes.
If you never seem to get around to the things that matter most to you, though, I suggest giving it a try.
How do you use productive procrastination to achieve your goals? What has your experience been like?
Let me know in the comments below.
Shh… Don’t tell anyone. Only the cool kids are talking about it.
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