Productive Procrastination

Procrastination is almost a bad word in the English language. It’s often looked down upon as lazy or linked to feelings of guilt in the mind of the procrastinator. It creates a level of stress because there is an unmet commitment. What would you say if I told you that procrastination can be used productively? Productive procrastination sounds like an oxymoron but it has a real following.

There are times I become remarkably productive while procrastinating. While avoiding The Task, I do other important things in an effort to assuage my guilt. This often involves doing dishes (my least favorite chore) because the self-inflicted punishment of doing another task I don’t like makes me feel better about myself!

Productive Procrastination

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John Perry, professor emeritus at Stanford University, calls this “structured procrastination.” He even wrote a book about how to use procrastination to your benefit.

“Procrastination means not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Structured procrastination means you don’t waste your time. When you’re avoiding another task, you do something else instead.”

-John Perry, The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing

This turns procrastination into a source of motivation.

Using Procrastination Productively

Productive procrastination is all about doing beneficial things while avoiding a certain task.

Make a List

Ok, so you don’t want to do The Task. Well, what other things could you do with your time? Writing or organizing your to-do list will help prepare you to make progress in other areas.


Cleaning is the ultimate never-ending task. If you want to avoid The Task, there is always something you can clean/tidy/wash. Maybe your dishes are done but there are bathrooms, floors, and dirty windows aplenty.


I have a hard time fitting exercise into my day. Exercising instead of working on The Task still allows me to feel good about accomplishing something out of the ordinary. The endorphin high doesn’t hurt either.

Do Related Tasks

You can still make progress on The Task by doing other tasks related to it. My real-life example is writing this blog post. I procrastinated on actually writing by taking a quiz about how much I procrastinate. If that’s not ironic, I don’t know what is. The great part is I can call it research instead of procrastination!

You can take the survey and help provide data for a research project on procrastination here.

Other Ways to Beat Procrastination

Sometimes you just want to stop procrastinating instead of working with it. Here are ways to get motivated.


Creating routines and habits makes things easier. You could implement this by saying after lunch every day you are going to work on The Task for an hour.


The times I have been the most in shape of my life were times when someone else was counting on me. My most recent example is a group coaching class I took through Fitocracy. This included a weekly video chat with my coach. I was very motivated to do my workouts because I wanted something good to tell her every week. You can get $20 off your first group coaching class here.

Set a Timer

You can do anything for 15 minutes. Giving yourself mental permission to stop after a short time makes it easier to start because it is a small commitment. You might even feel like continuing once that timer goes off!

Lower Expectations

Perfectionism makes every task harder than it ultimately needs to be. Many people procrastinate because they are afraid to fall short of their mental image. Procrastination both puts off the task, and forces you to produce it in a shorter time frame. This shortened time frame can be a way of avoiding the perfectionism because you “didn’t have time” to do your best. Short-circuit this stress by lowering your expectations in the first place.

A Final Lesson

I was surprised to find there is some serious research on procrastination and productivity. You might think that having fewer commitments (and therefore more time) would lead to less procrastination. That could be a terrible mistake.

“[Minimizing commitments] destroys [procrastinators’] most important source of motivation. If you only have one thing to do, you won’t get anything else done – you’ll probably just lie on the couch to avoid it.”

John Perry

I stress a lot, but according to the survey above I’m not a very big procrastinator. I ranked in the bottom 10% of procrastinators. Whether you learn to use your procrastination for good or beat it through other techniques, I hope you come away with less stress knowing that it can have a silver lining. Procrastinating doesn’t make you lazy. Productive procrastination allows you to harness your procrastination to accomplish a lot.

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