The Art of Procrastination and How to Use it to Your Advantage

The Art of Procrastination and How to Use it to Your Advantage

Sure, I’ll admit it: I procrastinate.

Not just a little; I’m a devoted procrastinator and I put everything off until the very last minute possible. Just ask my husband.

And I’m not necessarily looking to cure my procrastination. But yeah, it causes me problems from time to time.

The thing is that it’s something I do naturally. Without even thinking about it.  And I’ve always wondered if there was a way to use my procrastination talents to my distinct advantage.

Apparently there is.

One day, I happened to run across a book: The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing by John Perry. Exactly what I was looking for!

I’m not going to tell you how long I put off buying it after I discovered it.

But eventually, I did buy it. It’s a pretty short read (so you’re not inclined to put it off for later, ha!) and the book talks about structured procrastination.  What in the world…?

“When people procrastinate, it’s not that they aren’t doing anything; they simply aren’t doing something that’s more important.”

You see? I do get a lot done. Just not the “important” stuff.

John Perry (that’s the author) explains this further:

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. (Italics added for emphasis)

So far, that doesn’t sound very flattering, but check this out:

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.

In short, if you want to get me to do something you think is important, make sure I have something else that’s MORE important that needs doing. I’ll get your important stuff done just to avoid the MORE important stuff.

So if you live with a procrastinator – or even if you procrastinate yourself – here’s what to do to make sure you get a ton of important work done… while still happily avoiding the more important work you want to put off until – oh, say, next year.

  1. Make a task that seems to have a clear deadline (but that really doesn’t).
  2. Make sure the task seems awfully important (but really isn’t).
  3. Add in other tasks that you’d really like to get done.

Of course, if you have another task that’s even more daunting or important than the Top Priority on your list, the big task you chose gets delegated to second most important… and gets done.

Because you’re avoiding that Top Priority Task, of course.

Sounds brilliant, actually.

What do you think?  Do you have ways to use your procrastination to be productive rather than wasteful? Add your own ideas in the comments so we can all try your tips. And maybe in the future, you’ll get to read a post on how well (or not) they worked for me.

Post by Kari

Kari is a full-time content manager, editor and in-house blogger at Men With Pens. In her spare time, she writes fiction and is working on her first novel.

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  1. Kari

    This is brilliant though I do wonder what our resident Shrink aka Peter Shallard thinks of it.

    I am a big fan of positive procrastination. Around reporting time at school I have the cleanest classroom around.

    I might try this out tonight.

    Ainslie

    • Thanks Ainslie! I’m definitely curious as to what Peter thinks of it also. Hopefully he’ll pop in and comment :)

      I LOVE the idea of using my procrastination in a productive manner. I mean, I do it already — seems to come natural even — so why not try to find a way to use it? :)

  2. “I’m not going to tell you how long I put off buying it after I discovered it.”

    lol

    Good post Kari

    Yeah, I’ll admit I procrastinate on some important things that I REALLY don’t want to do like:
    THE FREAKING TAXES

    But I’ve tried to get better at focusing on what’s most important everyday and doing this first.

    That way the rest of the day you feel like you have already accomplished something.

    • Thank you :)

      I agree with you about getting the important things done first and out of the way. The problem is, with me anyway, I have a hard time prioritizing what’s the top, number one, most important thing to do. Sometimes everything feels like it’s important enough to do right now and I get stressed and hide, because I really don’t handle stress well. And then I get nothing done. And then other times are better, of course. We all have our good days and bad days :)

      The structured procrastination I laid out above is, at least, a plan to get started on those bad days when I want to crawl under a rock and stay there :)

  3. I’m procrastinating right now! I have an incredibly small number of papers to grade (3) and yet I’d rather read blogs and comment on them. I’m learning and interacting with great people, so I consider this productive procrastination.

    I don’t feel so bad, because as you explained, I get a lot done while procrastinating, stuff that probably wouldn’t get done otherwise.

    I’m going to be more intentional about now.

    • And at some point, those papers will become more important than the other things you want to do, right? :) So you’ll do them while putting off another “important” task :)

      Pay attention to what you’re procrastinating on and simply procrastinate using the right tasks :)

  4. I am the world’s greatest procrastinator who wants to become a freelancer writer, and I too am reading and commenting on blogs instead of doing something more important. (sigh)

    • Mary, reading and commenting on blogs can be important — you’re networking and learning. I mean, it’s not like you’re wasting time on learning the latest celebrity gossip, right? You’re reading and learning things that can help you become that freelance writer you want to be :)

      One idea is to time yourself when you read your blogs. Give yourself an hour to spend procrastinating while you learn. Then the next hour, use what you’ve learned to write an article :)

      See? You CAN do this!

  5. Nice, I now have permission to call my procrastination an art. I always knew I was the creative type, this is just sweet confirmation. Seriously, though. I use my procrastination to think. I think a lot, probably too much, but I do get quite a bit done in my head while I’m procrastinating. I think I do most of my writing, or at least a good chunk of it, in my head when I’m nowhere near a keyboard. My brain just seems to work that way.

    Now if I can only think up something else more important and intimidating than writing that book I’ve been putting off…..

    • (laughs) I think procrastination done the right way, done productively, can indeed be an art form.

      Keep a pen and paper handy when you’re thinking so you don’t lose those great ideas you’re coming up with!

      More important than writing a novel? Oh, there are LOTS of things, I’m sure :) However, something more intimidating? Um, I think you’ve got me there :)

  6. Na – sorry, any clever procrastinators best trick is thinking about doing stuff rather than doing it! And so thinking about cheating myself into doing something isn’t getting it done! A fun post though.

  7. The thing is that a lot of procrastinators can’t work unless they’re under time pressure. Most, though not all of them, feel that they can only focus on something when they know that the deadline is just a few hours away. Otherwise, they prefer to do smaller tasks.

  8. Thats a brilliant idea! I will try it today!

  9. I know it wouldn’t work for me. I would know that even I marked other tasks as more important and urgent, they are not. I cannot trick myself like that.

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