Can procrastination actually make you more productive?




There’s a very good article in the New York Times about “positive procrastination.” Yes, that’s right, procrastination that’s a good thing.

They talk to Dr. John Perry, author of The Art of Procrastination, who explains a good method for leveraging your laziness:

Dr. Perry was a typical self-hating procrastinator until it occurred to him in 1995 that he wasn’t entirely lazy. When he put off grading papers, he didn’t just sit around idly; he would sharpen pencils or work in the garden or play Ping-Pong with students. “Procrastinators,” he realized, “seldom do absolutely nothing.”

A modest insight, perhaps, but it eased his conscience and disabused him of the old idea that procrastinators should limit commitments. The key to productivity, he argues in “The Art of Procrastination,” is to make more commitments — but to be methodical about it.

At the top of your to-do list, put a couple of daunting, if not impossible, tasks that are vaguely important-sounding (but really aren’t) and seem to have deadlines (but really don’t). Then, farther down the list, include some doable tasks that really matter.

“Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list,” Dr. Perry writes. “With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.”

To quote Robert Benchley:

…anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.

A similar technique is described by Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation:

“My best trick is to play my projects off against each other, procrastinating on one by working on another.”

Dr. Steel says it’s based on sound principles of behavioral psychology: “We are willing to pursue any vile task as long as it allows us to avoid something worse.”

My two favorite methods for beating procrastination are here.

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