The Mind-Blowing Thought Of Productive Procrastination

What if….and hear me out….

Procrastinators are simply experts at prioritizing the most important item on their to-do list at the expense of things that can be put off until later?

There’s a name for people like this. They’re called productive procrastinators.

As a life-long, self-described procrastinator, I love the reframing of this lifestyle choice as a positive personal attribute.

Productive procrastination refers to the act of deliberately avoiding less important tasks by focusing on more important ones. Instead of being unproductive, the individual uses their time to engage in activities that are more valuable, leading to increased productivity and reduced stress. It’s a way to maximize the use of time by prioritizing tasks and focusing on what is essential. The idea is to use procrastination as a tool to boost productivity, rather than as a hindrance.

I first learned about productive procrastinators from Austin Kleon’s amazing blog and the concept really got me thinking about what makes a person a good productive procrastinator vs. someone who is simply that archetype procrastinator that puts off everything until the last minute without a discerning eye towards what is most important.

The best productive procrastinators I know are experts at prioritization and planning. Here are four things all productive procrastinators must be able to do in order to be effective.

  1. Factor in what is important in the future when setting your priorities. Take stock of all the things you need to accomplish over the next 3–4 weeks (not just hours) and tackle the most important tasks first. If I don’t look a few weeks into the future, I often end up tackling small tasks that are an immediate priority at the expense of big, important, long-term tasks that take more time. 

    Tip: Prioritize a long-term task at the expense of the immediate task to allow you to get your big ideas out into the world faster. A lovely additional outcome is that prioritizing long-term tasks will force you to be more efficient with immediate tasks like email.

  2. Create a hierarchy for your to-do list. My to-do list is always a mile long. I’ll often get my list out and arbitrarily start tackling things without discernment for what is most important. To combat this, I get my to-do list out every day and reset what is most important by keeping my list up to date and factoring in both short and long-term goals I’d like to accomplish. 

    Tip: Given the time you have, identify tasks that will give you the most impact as you move your big ideas forward. If I only have 30 minutes between meetings, I’m not likely going to be able to tackle my dream project that is two months into the future, but I may be able to knock out a ton of e-mail that might not have been the priority earlier in the day.

  3. Email has a hierarchy. Starting at the top of my inbox is not the best way to tackle this task. Every time I open my email, I take the following steps. First, I set a timer and I challenge myself to get through as much email as I can in a set amount of time (usually 30 minutes). Second, I look for any messages from my boss or my direct reports to ensure that a response from me is not holding them back from their work. Third, I scan all the messages, eliminate any junk and respond to any note that takes me less than 30 seconds. I spend the rest of my time tackling the emails that I determine are the most important. 

    Tip: It’s ok for an email to sit for a couple of days if there are more important priorities to tackle. If you get a second email from someone asking for a response, remind yourself that the person sending you the email is setting your priorities for you. As long as you’re not outright ignoring the person, stay the course and respond when that message becomes the priority for you.

  4. Who are you doing this for? Productive procrastinators are experts at saying no to priorities imposed on them by others. (Note: this does not necessarily include tasks assigned to you at work) My to-do list has two buckets. The first bucket is a to-do list of tasks that I have established. The second bucket is a to-do list of tasks that someone else has established for me. Seeing these tasks laid out in this way helps me set priorities in the moment and also helps me work on saying no in the future when I see things that stretch me beyond my capacity now that I can eliminate in the future.

It has been interesting thinking about what my priorities are each day. For example, I’m wrapping up this post at 8:11 am on Monday morning, because I have made it a priority to post once a day during the weekdays. Tackling this first ensures that I get the post out, gives me a sense of accomplishment, and allows me to clear a top priority off my plate before diving into the rest of the day.

…….The email can wait a bit longer!

Is the concept of a productive procrastinator new to you? What other strategies can you think of to help achieve the mindset of a productive procrastinator?

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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