To procrastinate is to be human. Or at least that’s what we think. We all do it. And while most advice (including ours) focuses on how to stop procrastinating, we’re not going to completely eliminate it any time soon. Some days it just seems impossible to focus, which can make us more stressed, more distracted, and even more frustrated. And spoiler, none of those things help us get back to work. So what does? While the ultimate goal is to quit putting things off, you can maximize the time you don’t use on your tasks to make progress elsewhere. It’s called productive procrastination. And it totally works.
What is Productive Procrastination?
That idea might sound counterintuitive, but hear us out.
Procrastination isn’t just about doing nothing. Think about it—you’re usually doing something else with that time, even if it’s just a scroll here, a coffee there, and so on. So instead of letting social media or other mindless tasks eat that time, fill it with something that will restore your energy to complete that task later on. In fact, fill it with things that are scientifically proven to improve focus, increase concentration, and give your brain a fresh start.
Not sure what those things are? We’re about to tell you.
Try These 5 Tricks to Make Your Procrastination Productive
So the next time you’re putting off a task, try something that packs big benefits in the short and long term. Because you might as well use your procrastination for good, right?
Here are five ideas on how to procrastinate more productively.
1. Go for a walk
You probably already know that walking is kickass for your health. But did you know it can help you work better too?
Taking a walk can make you:
- More relaxed and enthusiastic about your work
- More creative
- More focused when you do get back to work.
In other words, if you know that task isn’t happening in the next 15 minutes, use this productive procrastination strategy to help you later on. To really one-up your walk, take it outside. But even a quick stroll around your floor can be a productive way to procrastinate.
2. Take a nap
While we would never tell you to lie down in your cubicle and take a nap in the middle of the workday (okay, maybe we would), napping is a great productive procrastination option for those of you who work at home.
- Up alertness
- Increase reaction time
- Improve logical reasoning skills
There’s also evidence that napping can help combat the— very common—deterioration in performance that happens after doing a repetitive task.
So if you start to feel yourself dozing off while trying to complete a task, don’t fight it. A 10- to 20-minute nap is ideal for getting all the benefits without the drowsiness.
3. Check off the rest of your to-do list
To John Perry, PhD, a philosophy professor at Stanford University, procrastination is an art. In fact, he wrote a book about it called, The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging, and Postponing.
According to Dr. Perry:
Procrastinators…do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.
If you want to take a cue from Dr. Perry, you can use your productive procrastination skills to check some of those worthwhile, but less important tasks off your list. This helps clear your mind for the more important tasks ahead and can help you feel less stressed in the end. Win-win.
4. Clean up your workspace
Studies show that visual clutter can make it hard to focus on the task at hand. So if you’re having a hard time getting down to business, why not try procrastinating with cleaning?
Yeah, we know what you’re thinking—this one isn’t very fun either. But summoning Dr. Perry, if you’re desperate enough to procrastinate, you’ll do just about anything to avoid what you’re procrastinating. Including cleaning.
To start, put away everything you can that’s not essential to your task. We totally get it if you really need that mini garden gnome on your desk, but your extra papers, office supplies, and empty water bottles can all go somewhere less distracting.
Don’t forget about your digital space too. Close out of the tabs and programs you don’t need, so they don’t vie for your attention on your computer screen. Once you’re done, you’ll be ready to focus, without all the clutter taking your attention from your task. And if you’re not, try strategies one through three.
Oh meditation. It makes nearly all of our productivity lists and with good reason—it works. Even if you’re sort of iffy on it, it’s worth a shot. You don’t even have to say “om.” Promise.
So why is meditation a productivity procrastination trick, you ask? It has all kinds of benefits that can boost your productivity later on. Like improving your mood, executive function (i.e., focus and concentration), and working memory.
You can tackle this any way that works for you. Try listening to a short guided meditation, using a meditation app, or even just closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing for a few minutes. When you’re done, there’s a good chance you’ll have better insight into the task you’ve been procrastinating. Or just feel more calm and confident in your ability to accomplish it.
To sum it all up
Maybe reading this article was enough productive procrastination for you (we’d be so flattered), and now you’re ready to tackle your most important tasks. But if not, don’t worry. We hope that it at least gave you the inspiration you need to use your procrastination time wisely.
Next time you’re stuck in the procrastination loop, try some of these science-backed strategies:
- Go for a walk, ideally outside. You get health + productivity benefits that’ll help you master your to-do list later on.
- Take a nap. In your home, office, or even your car for huge cognitive improvements once you wake.
- Hit the rest of your to-dos hard. Might as well get some of those other tasks done if you’re not going to go after the big ones.
- Clean your workspace. Or your entire space. Visual clutter = distracting. Plus if you’re putting one thing off, you’ll do just about anything to avoid it. Make sure that anything helps your future self out.
- Meditate. Eyes closed, eyes open, guided, unguided, walking, sitting, standing, whatever. Take a few moments to breathe for brain benefits that pay off in the long-term.
Your turn: Does productive procrastination work for you? Tell us how you handle procrastination in the comments below.
Turn your reads into a productive procrastination strategy of their own with these 11 books to change your life.
Author: Erica Hersh
Erica Hersh is a health writer, editor, and communications strategist based in Boston, MA. In 2014, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of being on Jeopardy. She did not, however, fulfill her dream of winning on Jeopardy.