I remember seeing the term ‘productive procrastination’ in a management magazine and instantly loving it.
It comes from psychologist Piers Steel and refers to the act of doing everything except the big task you need to do.
Like doing all your admin tasks before making that phone call you’re dreading.
As I talked about last week
, procrastination doesn’t need to be negative, especially when it’s productive.
Procrastination Can Be Positive
These days with no commute into the office I often find I need some momentum before I can “eat that frog
“, so I often start with a few quick wins to get momentum going and then grit my teeth to tackle the hardest task of the day.
I’ve also found that I’m more of a doer in the morning, give me a to do list and this sleepy brain lights up and powers through it.
When it comes to creativity, like designing a workshop or writing this letter I’m much better in the afternoon. So I often spend the mornings productively procrastinating on setting up the slide deck and facilitator guide and looking for articles that might help, then I take a long lunch, fully using the Zeigarnik effect
and come back to it later.
When Procrastination = Avoidance
Where procrastination is not productive is when you’re doing a whole lot of things of little consequence, yes I know the gutters need to be done, but right now?, because you’re avoiding something. Or when you spend so much time thinking about what you’re going to do that you don’t actually get started.
The task you need to do seems absolutely huge and your Chimp brain
is probably kicking off trying to find any reason not to do it. Procrastination is not laziness, laziness is laziness. Instead, procrastination is often down to fear. The bigger the task seems to us the harder it is to know where to start.
One Bite At A Time
But as they say you, eat an elephant (please don’t!) one bite at a time. So when you’re faced with a huge task and you know you’re avoiding it, take a moment to think of the smallest thing you could do right now to take a bite out of it. Set a timer for 3 minutes
and go to work, giving yourself permission that if you’re not in a flow after 3 minutes you can go back to those gutters.
Another idea is to talk to someone, often a fresh perspective will help you see that the task is not so big after all. But more than anything else, just take the smallest step you can and once you’ve done that take the next smallest step. This is especially true if you’re one of the overthinkers. Sometimes you need to start on the path before you can know it’s the right one.