How I use productive procrastination to get more done

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by Mandi

Mandi Ehman is the blogger behind Life Your Way. She and her husband have four beautiful girls plus one baby boy, and together they live, work and homeschool on a little slice of heaven in wild, wonderful West Virginia. Mandi loves coffee, chocolate, easy meals, beautiful things and minimalist spaces.

productive-procrastination

On weeks when my schedule and to-do list are overflowing, I always seem to get more done.

Does that sound familiar?

For a long time, I thought it was because of the adrenaline during those packed weeks.

What I’ve realized, though, is that while that may be true sometimes, I think I’m more effective when I have more to do for one simple reason. I like to call it “productive procrastination.”

Productive procrastination?!

When my to-do list is small and I want to procrastinate, I end up zoning on Facebook, blog hopping or, if I can pull myself out of the internet fog, reading a book.

But when my to-do list is overflowing and I don’t feel like working on project A or folding laundry, I still have a long list of activities to choose from (some of which I am probably excited about).

By choosing those activities – even if it’s not the most critical thing on my list — I’m able to make forward progress.

What this looks like in my life.

For example, I was feeling kind of lazy about an hour before I started writing this post. I should probably be working on a post for my blog, but I’m not really feeling inspired or motivated to do that.

I started to sink into the rabbit hole that is the internet before I reminded myself that this is a crazy busy week and took another look at my to-do list.

One of the items on there? Testing a ricotta cheesecake recipe for my sister’s graduation party this weekend.

That certainly sounds like a lot more fun than writing a post.

I got the ricotta cheesecake ready and in the oven, and then I moved right onto another fun project, which also happens to be on my to-do list…making a photo mobile for said party.

I’m about halfway through cutting those pictures, and it’s getting pretty tedious, so I took a break to, well, write this post.

When I finish the draft, I’ll go back to cutting the pictures, and when that’s done, I’ll sit down and write the original post that sent me running to the kitchen.

At the end of today, I will have made pretty significant progress on my to-do list, even if it wasn’t in the perfect order, so I will feel like it was a productive day. And I’ll do it without white knuckling my way through.

Ways to productively procrastinate.

How else does this play out in our day-to-day lives? No matter what your daily responsibilities look like, here are some more examples of ways to use productive procrastination to your advantage:

Note: Not all of these are fun activities. Some of them simply get you moving or allow you to check something easy off your to-do list!

  • Call a friend
  • Exercise
  • Do a brain dump
  • Read to the kids
  • Fold laundry
  • Work on a scrapbook
  • Write a blog post
  • File paperwork
  • Go for a walk
  • Start dinner prep

Of course, there are still times when we have to suck it up and get something done on your to-do list now and not later. And there’s definitely value in eating the frog first thing in the morning.

Understanding your personality and motivation is an important part of developing discipline and becoming more productive, so look for ways to use productive procrastination, not just as a way to avoid some dreaded task, but as a way to get more done!

Have you ever used procrastination for your benefit? What else would you add to the list of ways to productively procrastinate?

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Comments

  1. I like this idea a lot. I actually do this, but I like having a name for it now. Makes it feel more “official” :) Thanks!

    • Haha, I feel the same way, Hilda! Having a name for it totally helped validate it in my mind, because I do it too.
      Just yesterday I was wondering if there was something wrong with me because I always seem to get more done when my to-do list is through the roof than when I’m caught up. Glad to know there’s enough of us out there to warrant a blog post!

  2. My dorm room was never cleaner than the day before I had a big paper due.

  3. I’ve always said I’m “better under pressure” — but similarly to you I always get more done when I have less time. I like your official sounding name for it though!

  4. I agree. Most of the time I try to get the not fun jobs out of the way first, but when I’m really dragging and everything sounds hard (beginning or end of pregnancy anyone?), doing the more fun things on my list allows me to at least get something done.

  5. I like how you put a positive spin on a negative habit! It seems to me that when I get one thing done, especially a dreaded one, I feel more ambitious and motivated.

  6. I’m usually an “eat the frog in the morning” kind of girl. I power through the toughest or least desirable job first and then the rest of the list is cake. Make that cheesecake with strawberry swirls.
    I would add 10 minutes of total, utter silence to the productive procrastination techniques. Life is so loud that sitting down in a quiet place with no television and no people feels like a vacation. Close your eyes and sit on the floor for good measure.

  7. Great post. Oh, we really feel that one and we really always do that thing as well. In fact, when I feel tired in blogging I rather do other things before continuing my blog. I look for motivation that will inspire me to continue my work.

  8. Dear Mandi,

    So true! I usually find that when I too, have a ton on my list, I do get more done! I also find that honoring those slow moments of procrastination have their place as well! A little Facebook zoning is a lovely indulgence every now and then : ). When I am overwhelmed I also try to remember that 5 minutes here or there makes all the difference — when things are crazy — straightening for 5 minutes (instead of sitting stunned on the couch staring at what needs to be straightened for 5 minutes) has amazing benefits! I also sometimes meditate for 2 minutes. Just two minutes of peace and breathing helps time expand during a busy day.
    Thank you for this great post! Elizabeth Lane

    • Oh, yep, I didn’t mean to imply that Facebook is always bad. But for me there’s a line between healthy Facebook use — interacting with friends, etc. — and just kind of clicking around because I don’t want to do anything else. You know what I mean?

  9. avatar
    Leslie Corney says:

    This is how I function on most days. When I need to “white knuckle” through something, I take a deep cleansing breath, press start on a 10 minute timer, and sit down for the remaining minutes after the task is done. This works especially well for straightening up areas of the house. If the timer sounds before I finish, I am already so invested in the task that it gets finished.

  10. I think my lists are already too long to begin with, but yes, procrastination works for us too. And once I find something that I am interested in doing, I usually keep going throughout the day finding more to do, and accomplishing more than I originally planned. Plus, when there is a deadline for something, say you are having a big family BBQ and the house is a disaster still, you can get it pretty clean when you are under that kind of pressure :-) Reminds me of studying for college!

  11. I agree with everyone else – it’s nice to have an official name for this habit :) I always work better under pressure. And my house is never cleaner than when I have something else I really don’t want to be doing. I look forward to checking out your blog – and am happy to have discovered you here! :)

  12. avatar
    Heather says:

    Wow! This totally describes my life! I’m going to “eat my frog” now and quit trying to catch up on blogs :)

  13. This is really insightful! I always chalked up my productivity on those weeks to adrenaline as well. I’m definitely going to keep a “procrastination list” in my homemaking binder now!

  14. Brilliant. I, of course, do this naturally part of the time. But I think you are really on to something here, and maybe I can apply this more proactively to my life.

  15. For me, I’d add: “Make something for the pantry.” Today I made a big batch of granola to have on hand; on another day it could be crackers or a jar of pancake mix. There’s something about a little task that is enjoyable *and* feels like I’m getting things done in the future that gets me moving on the more pressing activities.

    Plus, anything that ends with a big Mason jar of something delicious is kind of awesome.

  16. avatar
    Michelle says:

    I can totally relate! My high school principal told me (as I was about to drop calculus), “Those who have more to do, do more.”

  17. Oh, this topic is near and dear to me–just finished a procrastination project! I find that when I’m paralyzed by perfectionism (the usual source of my procrastination), pouring myself into something else gets me unstuck. Recently wrote about how that got our family room painted (http://www.thissortaoldlife.com/2012/06/14/as-the-paint-roller-turns-episode-2/). (If you’re going to procrastinate, might as well do it big!)

  18. This is my desktop background. So, yes, I totally encourage productive procrastination! ;)

  19. What a great point! I keep a mental list of things I need to do, but it often just overwhelms me so I putter around doing non-productive things rather than tackle my projects. But I can’t even enjoy that puttering, because I feel like I should be on task. I’m definitely going to use the idea of doing a brain dump during those times; if nothing else, it’ll free up some brain space so I can concentrate on perfecting my aim in Angry Birds!

  20. Hubby and I were just talking about this recently… Something about when the pressure’s on we do our best work. Crazy, but it’s true for us. Sometimes we invite people over just to have a really good reason to clean around the house. Knowing someone else can enjoy our clean(er) home makes the task less mundane.

  21. Great motivational post! Thank you. It’s true — I always seem to find the motivation to do extra projects when I am super busy. I guess its good to give ourselves the freedom to do something else productively as a break. :)

  22. I like this! I’ll start doing useful things as I procrastinate! I get to put off an uninteresting thing, have something off my list, and feel less guilt. This I can do.

  23. avatar
    jordan taylor says:

    I have done this all my life. I have tried so many tips from all the experts but I work best under pressure. Thanks for replacing my “lazy” term with one that sounds more professional.

  24. I work best in project style rather than in a pattern of consistent upkeep, so I can totally relate with this. I go through weeks where I’m just moseying from thing to thing not really tackling anything fully and then there will be a time when I’ll get motivated (or be forced into working on something because of a deadline or guests coming over!) and do a whole bunch at once. I find that I’m super productive during these times because of the fact that “an object in motion stays in motion”. Whether it’s cleaning the house or writing up a post or just wrangling those undone bureaucratic tasks…once I get going, I ride the momentum.

  25. I always saw procrastination as something negatitive and time wasting and am always moaning at my hubby because he procrastinates – a lot! But after reading this article I can see how you can use it to your advantage! Thanks regards Fiona

  26. This is actually an interesting way of looking at it. I analyzed my own To-Do List and you’re right! I feel laziest when I only have 2-3 items on it… :)

  27. avatar
    Jessica says:

    I didn’t know this had a name! So great!! I am completely this type of person. In the first couple of weeks of June, I feel like I moved in slow motion and got virtually nothing accomplished. But there was nothing to push me to order my day. No schooling, no extra-curricular activities to schedule around, no major job deadlines. But suddenly, we are looking at the next few weeks packed with VBS, camping, and possible house projects with a deadline. Now I feel motivated again!

  28. Precisely! This is how it happens with me, also, and the name is spot on. Thanks for sharing and for encouraging me.

  29. I am just reading this after a very busy day where I did my own productive procrastination! for me it happens in the form of looking at my list and truly taking care of what needs to be done now, and putting off what could be done tomorrow. It’s now dinner time and all the today’s are done, so I can start picking off the got to get done first thing tomorrow and perhaps get ahead! (that’s a big perhaps)

  30. Love the term “productive procrastination.” It makes me feel better inside. That is the thing about working from home…it is always easy to find ways to put off work work. Thanks for making me feel that is (sometimes) okay!

  31. Love the term. But having it written down is key. I find myself spinning my wheels mostly when I don’t have a good list…like right now when I need to get ready to go on vacation. That’s where the brain dump comes in I guess!

  32. Yes! That’s what I’m talking about!!! I’ve been trying to make the to do list in my planner work for me but that list is all about “prioritizing”, and to me, that takes all the fun out of life. Now certainly, like you said, sometimes you just have to suck it up and do the thing that’s a priority. But I work so much better from a To Do List on a steno pad. I just write down everything that pops into my head, put a star by the ones that are important, and then do them as I see fit. I am SO MUCH MORE PRODUCTIVE this way than using the prioritized list in my planner. I actually made the steno pad to do list today and am so productive but I was feeling guilty – like I should use my planner page and prioritize. Your article reminded me that this is the way I work best so this is the way I should work! Maybe I won’t get things done in the perfect order or maybe sometimes I will be working on something at the last minute but most of the time things work out just fine and life feels a little bit more fun and more productive.

    Thanks for your post.

  33. Great post! And it’s so true but not something I ever thought about with enough focus to put into words. Now I won’t feel so guilty procrastinating, I’ll just focus my procrastination on other productive things!

  34. Yes, I use my procrastination by reading things like this blog, how to organize, declutter etc. It motivates me and gives me inspiring ideas, then it drives to me to move :)

  35. One thing I’ve found extremely useful and helpful is to keep a large, petition spiral notebook where I keep really helpful lists. One of the list of notes is “What to do with a Free Hour”. I love that list. Examples…organize photos, take nature photos, write a “real” letter to a friend.

  36. I use a great big petitioned notebook to categorize all the little things I’d love to do and yes of course all the things I need to do. Say what you will about lists but for us, it works! Happy summer to all!

  37. I’m so with you on this, Mandi! Just accomplishing *something* seems to get the ball rolling, even if that wasn’t what I originally planned to work on.

  38. I should probably be working on a post for my blog, but I’m not really feeling inspired or motivated to do that.

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