How Procrastination Can Make You More Productive


April 22, 2010   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man


Some mornings, I can’t wait to get to work. I jump out of bed, my mind already mulling over the various projects I want to complete. I pour myself some cereal and gulp it down in my home office while waiting for the computer to boot up.

Today is not one of those days. Outside, the sun is shining, birds are chirping and the dogwood tree is getting ready to bloom. Yet even with the windows open, my home office feels like a prison.

Call it spring fever. Call it burnout. Whatever you call it, one thing is clear: I do not want to work today.

My Revelation About Procrastination
I was feeling this way a few weeks ago, too. Despite my lengthy to-do list, I really just wanted to lay in the grass and finish reading “Switch,” the latest book by Chip and Dan Heath.

Instead, I forced myself to sit at the computer and get some work done. But I kept getting distracted. I’d pull up the internet to do some research and wind up on Twitter instead – or I’d open my email to respond to a client, only to get called away by an email.

I spent several hours bogged down by one distraction after another, and finished the day with no work accomplished. Then it dawned on me: I wasn’t procrastinating from work. I was procrastinating from reading. I was totally ignoring the side of me that wanted to read for an hour or two, and I was punishing myself by wasting the entire day.

It’s as if one side of me said, “Not going to pay attention to my needs, huh? Well, I’m not going to let you get any work done. So there.”

My brain can be tricky that way.

The Real Reason You Aren’t Getting Stuff Done
We’ve all read productivity tips such as, “Check your email once a day” and “Unplug the internet so you aren’t tempted to surf.” But these suggestions are no match for an unacknowledged urge stewing in your subconscious.

If you really don’t want to work, it won’t matter if your internet is unplugged. You’ll find other ways to procrastinate.

The same forces are at work when you forget to attend an appointment you’ve been dreading, or binge on cookies before you can reach for the celery. Sometimes, you just can’t shut out those competing urges.

The Solution: Procrastinate More
Once I realized what I was doing, I shut off the computer and headed outside to read. I spent a lovely couple of hours that way, and later I had an easy time getting back to work — real work, not just goofing off at my desk.

You can become more productive by paying attention to competing urges. Ask yourself:

  • What am I avoiding right now?
  • What have I been denying myself?
  • What action would leave me feeling rejuvenated and refreshed?

If your urge to procrastinate stems from anxiety or avoidance, the best solution may be to simply get to work. But if you’re feeling truly burnt out or in need of a creative boost, you may be best served by taking a day of play. Cancel your appointments and head to the park, or spend the afternoon in a hammock sipping lemonade. You may not pare down your to-do list, but you’ll feel much better about work in the morning. Over time, you may even get more done.


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