Productivity

How to use structured procrastination to get more done

- January 22, 2019 2 MIN READ

Turns out my procrastination wasn’t holding me back from full potential. I was just doing it wrong, writes Anna Milward.

I should be writing a 400-word product description for a client right now. But thanks to the power of procrastination, I’m writing this instead.

Turns out my procrastination wasn’t the thing holding me back from reaching my full potential for all these years, I was just doing it wrong.

Scan any popular business website or magazine for procrastination-related topics and you’ll find hundreds, if not thousands of articles about how to kick the filthy habit to the kerb. And usually with a combination of to-do lists, reward systems and working at specific times of day.

Procrastination doesn’t have to be bad

All this advice has one thing in common – the assumption that procrastination is bad. And because procrastination is such an ingrained pattern of behaviour for so many of us, it’s very hard to break. Those of us who are unable to avoid avoidance spend a lot of time feeling like hopeless underachievers who will never be successful (or maybe that’s just me?).

But what if you could use your powers of procrastination for good? What if procrastinators are not doomed to a life of watching endless Friends repeats with nothing but their perfectly matched sock collection for company?

Welcome to the theory of structured procrastination

Recently, I was delighted to stumble on the idea of “structured procrastination,” developed in 1995 by philosophy professor John Perry who explains it in depth here. The general idea behind structured procrastination is that you can get anything done as long as it’s not the thing you’re supposed to be doing. In other words, the way to beat procrastination is by procrastinating more.

Structured procrastination, or what I like to think of as productive procrastination is the art of avoiding one fairly urgent task (like starting that gnarly client project) by completing another less urgent yet still beneficial task (like writing this article). It means using your powers of procrastination for business benefit instead of wasting them on your cutlery drawer or the vacuuming.

Of course, if you have a client deadline you do still need to get the work done and that’s where I’ve found structured procrastination does fall down a bit. Having said that, in my experience as a dedicated procrastinator, one of two things usually happens:

  1. The thing you’re putting off becomes so urgent that fear finally kicks in and you just get it done.
  2. Something more important or unappealing comes along and you do the original urgent thing to avoid doing the new urgent thing.

Either way it gets done, and as an added bonus, you’ve also completed a few other useful tasks along the way.

The most important thing to remember is that to use structured procrastination properly you need to procrastinate on other business related and useful tasks, rather than planning your holiday or scrolling through Facebook.

If you’re a confirmed procrastinator stop trying to fight your natural inclinations. Why not give structured procrastination a try – tomorrow?