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You know the feeling. You’ve spent hours checking things off your to-do list but then you realize you didn’t really accomplish anything important at all. This is called productive procrastination.

Productive procrastination is when you’re busy, you aren’t watching Tik Tok but you’re still procrastinating on your most important tasks.

Like when you have a huge project at work but you’re sitting there organizing your emails.

Or tackling the almighty messy closet. Anything but that project.

It’s a great way to convince yourself that the to-dos in front of you are important tasks, so vital to your success, that they can’t be put off until later.

The problem with this type of productivity is that it’s actually disguised procrastination. It isn’t helping you get closer to crushing your goals.

It’s debatable if this idea is good procrastination or bad procrastination.

Productivity advice traditionally would say all types of procrastination is bad.

The truth is: it depends.

When you are engaged in productive procrastination, you tend to work hard without first analyzing the value of the tasks that you’re working on. Just because a task or to-do holds some kind of value, it doesn’t mean you should actually spend your time or energy on it at that moment.

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Why? Because while checking your email can be important, spending that time working on that project is more beneficial. It’s going to lead to a better outcome in the long run.

If you can do something in one minute like read an article, check your email, go on Instagram, the chances that you will finish that task are higher than if it were something that required more brainpower.  

It makes sense. It’s easier to do the tasks that we can cross off our to-do list quickly and it makes us feel good.

and that’s part of being human.

In this blog post, I’m going to go over the pros and cons of productive procrastination. How to focus on a specific task and useful things to do when you don’t feel like doing the big project. It’s important not to spend too much time in the productive procrastination phase so you can get back to the larger projects at hand.

Hopefully, these tips will help next time procrastination hits you.

Brief Psychology from the Experts

I’m not going to deep dive into this because I’m not a psychologist but if we do smaller tasks on our to-do list, we feel better about ourselves than if we sat on the couch all day binging Netflix.

Our brain releases dopamine because it thinks it was productive because, in a sense, you were.

However, more often than not, you are just distracting yourself from the tasks that actually need to get done.

It seems that research is a little conflicted on whether or not this kind of procrastination is a good thing or a bad thing.

An emeritus philosophy professor at Stanford University, John Perry coined the term structured procrastination and was adamant about how it can be a beneficial tool.

That even when he didn’t feel like doing the bigger task at least he got something done. He spent a lot of time getting to know his students better which made him more approachable. Which was beneficial.

and I can’t argue with him about that. At some point, we have to clean our house, organize our emails, or do those pesky things on our to-do list but these things are not going to help us make significant strides forward.

On the other hand, Mel Robbins gives credit to productive procrastination in her book, the 5 Second Rule. She writes how research shows this technique can help you avoid burnout and get your creative juices flow.

So productive procrastination can be a powerful tool but at the end of the day, you still have to get that big project done eventually.

What do I think of Productive Procrastination?

If you ask me, I think there is a time and place for productive procrastination. It just depends on the situation and what you’re expecting to get out of it.

For example, if I want to spend two hours doing work stuff but all I can seem to get myself motivated to do is checking emails or organizing my desk, productive procrastination could be a good time filler until I get in the groove. But if you want something more out of that time, productive procrastination is not going to cut it.

It seems like a paradox but this theory is best used as a time-filler or for preparing yourself for a major project.

The idea is that smaller tasks will lead to bigger tasks because once again, your brain releases dopamine for completing tasks. Starting with smaller tasks could give you the motivation or energy to tackle that bigger project.

But I’m not going to sugar coat this either, if you are using this technique as a reward system or to avoid doing your actual work then it’s not really doing anything for you. You’re going to have to work on the bigger tasks eventually.

And here lies the problem with this kind of procrastination; it can be misused very easily. You need to make sure that your effort is worth your time because no one wants to go through life feeling like they’re spinning their wheels and getting nowhere.

The difference between being busy and being productive  

In the simplest terms, being busy is time-based, and being productive is moving the needle forward.

So don’t fall into the trap of feeling busy and think you’re being productive.

Make sure you take a moment to evaluate the tasks you are doing and ensure they are actually helping you reach your goals.

I get sometimes we have to do busywork. It’s just part of business and life. But make sure that if you have a project that needs to be done, you’re giving yourself the time to do it so you aren’t waiting until the last minute.

It’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

You may find that you’ve been busy doing side projects that will never help you reach your goals. If you’re doing this, it’s time to start putting these things aside and moving forward.

Productive procrastination can be a great tool when you don’t have the energy to tackle those big projects. Because we’re humans who are constantly changing. There are going to be days that we’re in a fog or falling asleep in our chair.

We can’t control when the brain fog hits and sometimes it is better to use productive procrastination than scroll through social media.

So let’s dive into both: How to use productive procrastination and how to avoid it.

How to use productive procrastination to your benefit

We all have those days.

We didn’t sleep well, we’re super stressed out or we just don’t have enough time before our social obligations to tackle that big scary project.

In these moments, I think it is helpful to be a productive procrastinator vs. watching TV. Make good use of your time instead. Since at the end of the day, these things have to get done eventually.

There are a lot of youtube videos out there but I think this one sums it up nicely:

So on those low energy days, try the following tactics:

Plan your day

If you wake up tired, that doesn’t necessarily mean the rest of the day is ruined. Maybe you just need to ease into the day.

Time blocking your day can be a very powerful productivity tool. If you wake up tired, block your day in a way where you get smaller things done in the morning to build up momentum then spend an allocated hour on that project. Check out this article for more information.

For example, it may be wise to block some time to work out to get the blood flowing. It could help you get in a better mindset to tackle that project later on in the day.

Breaking projects into manageable chunks

Going off this planning theme, work on breaking that big scary project into smaller digestible pieces. This will make it seem less scary and it could help you feel more motivated to start the project. The first step is to make a list of tasks that need to be completed to finish the big project. Then just tackle one task at a time.

It may not seem much but completing little tasks towards a big goal builds confidence in your abilities. And once that confidence is boosted, the big project doesn’t feel so intense.

Clean up

Whether this is cleaning up your inbox or cleaning your house, these chores have to get done at some point. If you are avoiding the big project, cleaning will at least help you feel accomplished.

If you ask me, it is never a bad idea to channel your procrastination into getting things done that will help you feel calm and at peace. Check out my post on decluttering if you’re interested in tackling that.

Having a cleaner space may help your mind feel less overwhelmed and you’ll be able to focus more.

Tackle the Simple tasks on your to-do list first

This could be cleaning, running errands, or even reaching out to a loved one. They are on your to-do list for a reason so you’re going to want to get to these things eventually.

If your energy feels low, it could be a good opportunity to check these things off your list. It could even help the transition into the big scary project since you’ll feel good about yourself for accomplishing things off your to do list.

Move your body (talk a walk, exercise, go for a bike ride, practice yoga)

We all know that exercising is beneficial for a variety of reasons but did you know exercising can help your brain produce dopamine?

When we don’t get enough of it, we start to experience higher levels of stress and anxiety which leads us to procrastinate more.

Physical activity can help you boost dopamine and your energy levels since it gets the blood flowing.

At the very least, it is a healthy way to procrastinate because you are getting that body moving.

Journal

You know your girl loves journalling so I had to sneak this in. It may be beneficial to discover why you are procrastinating in the first place.

When we write in our journals, it can help us become more self-aware. It will allow you to see where your mindset is and what’s really going on in the background when you’re procrastinating. Many chronic procrastinators are just stressed but the act of procrastinating causes all these negative feelings and negative self-talk.

If you are able to determine why you’re stressed, it could help you overcome procrastination.

It could help you realize this big scary project isn’t that scary after all. Spend some time and do a brain dump to discover why you’re avoiding this daunting task.

Read or listen to a podcast

Reading or listening to a podcast could help us learn something about the task we’re avoiding, learn a new skill, or it can spark our creativity.

Maybe you’ll learn something in the book you’re reading that will help you tackle this project in a better way or maybe hearing about someone else’s struggles can motivate you to complete your important work.

How to avoid the trap of productive procrastination

Obviously, you can’t be a productive procrastinator forever. Otherwise, you’ll never reach your goals.

Or worse, you’ll get fired for not getting that big task done at work.

It’s important to set aside times during the day to work on those high-priority projects. You can’t put off the big things forever! So be honest with yourself about when you are procrastinating; Don’t say you’re busy every single day.

Otherwise, productive procrastination will not be an effective tool in your productivity belt.

On your high-energy days, this is when we need to dial in and get sh!t done!

Use your Favorite Time Management Tool

One method I really like for time management is the Pomodoro Method. Set a timer and work on the task at hand for 25 minutes. In those 25 minutes, the only thing that exists is that project. Hide your phone, turn off your notifications, create an environment for as few distractions as possible.

There are many different techniques out there. Another effective way is time blocking that I mentioned earlier. It really up to personal preference so you may have to test some different methods out until you find the one that works for you. Find a method that works for you and set time aside to specifically work on the important tasks.

Write out 3 daily goals

Sometimes the amount of work you need to do is too overwhelming. A good way to avoid overwhelm is to write out 3 tasks that you must do today instead of your whole to-do list. Your day is not over until you do those three things. They are non-negotiable.

This forces you to prioritize what’s actually important. Then you can relax at the end of the day even if your to-do list is still super long because you tackled the best tasks towards your success.

Focus on tasks that will move you forward towards your goals and dreams

If you haven’t set any goals, check out my article on how

Setting actionable goals and finding your why are important things when you are trying to avoid productive procrastination. It is going to make it easier to will yourself to tackle these big tasks that you’re avoiding.

Since it is leading you one step closer to your dream life.

Procrastination is often seen as a negative thing, but when used correctly, it can be a powerful tool for productivity. We’ve shared some tips on how to use productive procrastination to your advantage, including avoiding distractions, setting time aside for high-priority projects, and being honest with yourself about when you’re procrastinating. By taking these steps, you’ll be able to get more done in less time and reach your goals faster.

Let me know in the comments below what you’re going to do next time productive procrastination strikes.

Until next time,

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How Productive Procrastination can actually be a Good Thing

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