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Productivity & Work

The structured procrastination strategy

The biggest trick about email is that it gives you the feeling you’ve done something. Every time you open an email, your head lights up like a Christmas tree.

Can you imagine sitting outside your snail mail mailbox and opening it up twenty times a day? What a waste of time!

Running on the dopamine trail disrupts your productivity.

What you could do instead is structure your procrastination so you get other stuff done. The father of structured procrastination is Stanford professor John Perry, author of The Art of Procrastination. He writes:

All procrastinators put off things they have to do. 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.

John Perry
The structured procrastination strategy

Repeat: Procrastination does not mean doing nothing

Don’t beat yourself up for avoiding things at the top of the list. Chew on them while you go to work on something else. It’s the overthinking and doing nothing that tears you apart.

Note that staying busy does not mean checking Facebook. Social networks and their variable rewards are even more addicting than email.

Keep in mind that you’ll have to put your ass in the chair and dance with the anxiety at some point. If you don’t do the work, you simply don’t care enough.

Procrastinators can be finishers. Until then, reframe procrastination by doing important smaller things.

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Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Procrastinators can be finishers

We are told to ship it; release it before it’s finished, get it out of our hands so we can get the feedback we need to iterate and perfect our product. It’s a grueling process that fires up the anxiety. Is this thing going to work or go out to the void?

In his latest op-ed Why Do Anything? A Meditation on Procrastination Humanities professor and author Costica Bradatan writes:

Procrastination and mourning are tied tightly together: for to procrastinate is to mourn the precariousness of your creation even before you bring it into the world.

We are stuck between thinking and action, for which we have no choice but to finish what we started:

The procrastinator is both contemplator and man of action, which is the worst thing to be, and which is tearing him apart.

A cartoon of procrastination

Procrastination is the purest form of idleness. And it is brain’s neurons that dictate what we decide to do. “Who you are depends on what your neurons are up to, moment by moment,” says David Eagleman in his book The Brain: The Story of You.

So if neurons predict our fate but the mind is plastic, we should be setting up the entire system to prepare for better decision-making. For starters, we can make a list of the things we can control. But there will never be any guarantees that it’ll work. That’s where the habits and enthusiasm come in to help us overcome the fear.

gif via MIT

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Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Get started now to thwart procrastination


You don’t work better under pressure. It only feels that way because you have no other choice.

Procrastination has negative emotional consequences. We spend more time fretting about getting something done than actually doing it. The action is never is nearly as bad as the anticipation.

Whatever your philosophy of getting started is – taking small steps, performing little actions, bird by bird – you must develop a habit of starting now. Habits undermine procrastination by overwriting the conscious decision-making process.

Less thought, more action. Do small things.

Read Why We Procrastinate — And How We Can Stop

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The difference between artful procrastination and wasteful procrastination

We’re always doing something, whether we’re procrastinating, having fun, ideating, or working.  All those are decision making activities.  The only difference is how we bucket them, which is often hard to do since they often appear one of the same.  

One could say Zuckerberg was procrastinating when he created Facebook.  He enjoyed spending more time on the “project” than doing his Harvard homework.  Most people would’ve prioritized the homework, thinking that it will have greater impact on their future. Mark saw the future and built it. 

Chance are if you’re procrastinating and doing something you like, then that’s what you should be focusing your efforts on.  But you have to be extremely cautious.  This does not mean that you can become a professional video game player or basketball player. 

The key difference between those with pipe dreams and those with feasible dreams is the ability to predict the future based on an existing skillset and excitement compared to others.  You must feel that you can compete, take your field another level, or be able to build something no one has seen before.  The latter, writing the future, is typically the most inspirational. 

The art of procrastination is turning creativity into a career.  Know your strengths, emotions, and the market and trust your gut if you must go for it.