My Favorite Productivity Hack: Structured Procrastination

Image result for procrastination cartoon

I consider myself a minimalist in the sense that I try to squeeze the most juice out of any situation. I prefer “being all in” on the moment, versus “half-doing” several things at once. I rarely study around others (unless it is a group project) because I know it is less efficient and not particularly fun. I rather study independently hard for 2 hours, and then use the extra time to do actual fun things with friends (like going out or traveling). I apply this same lens to most things in life – zero or 100, all in or all out. 

This type of mindset, though very productive, does not cover my entire day. I am not able to perfectly knock out each and every task that comes my way…I still do procrastinate

I think procrastination is human in the sense that every person has a stack-rank of preferences for their activities. Some people prefer studying for exams. Other prefer going to the gym. 

While everyone has a unique ordering, we all face a similar problem: actually executing.

What is the best way to get as many of the things that we care about accomplished during a given set of time? 

Importantly, I want to emphasize that this does not necessarily exclusively apply to “work.” If you want to have lots of fun, if you want to watch lots of Netflix…literally whatever you want to do…I imagine you could use this lens. 

So now I get to the point of this essay…it is the idea that you can use the innate human ability to procrastinate to get a ton of things done on a consistent basis.

Here is how, and I borrow the concept from a blog called Structured Procrastination:

Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they 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.

Structured procrastination means shaping the structure of the tasks one has to do in a way that exploits this fact. The list of tasks one has in mind will be ordered by importance. Tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top. But there are also worthwhile tasks to perform lower down on the list. Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.

Structured procrastination is a re-programming of how you procrastinate. Instead of doing meaningless marginal tasks, as you normally would, do meaningful marginal tasks. In fact, you can do really hard meaningful tasks, so long as they are tangential to the thing that it is you are procrastinating.

Procrastination is not doing nothing.

It is just avoiding doing the one main thing you are supposed to do. 

It begs the question…what is your default state? 

When you get home from work/school what do you do? Do you pull up twitter? Do you call a friend, etc.? 

If you can re-wire these instincts such that “procrastinating” is indeed not unproductive. 

This may sound abstract, but I really think you can apply this to your daily life. 

One way to do this is to have a bullet-journal (of sorts) of quick 1-5 minute tasks. You can start to pick these up as your default state and work on them in your spare time. This is a good way to avoid scrolling aimlessly on social media, get a lot done, and have something to be proud of by the end of the day. 

Also published on Medium.