Structured Procrastination: Free Yourself of the Guilt of Procrastinating

We all procrastinate. In fact, I am procrastinating writing a research paper that’s due on Monday this very minute. I’ll get it done eventually, but right now I have many more important things to do like perusing my entire photo archive and looking into Web Design. We all think that procrastination is the sign of a slacker, that the early bird always gets the worm, and that putting things off makes you a non-worthy human being. I am here to tell you why that is simply not true.

I didn’t originate this concept, and I’m not actually sure who did — but the first place I read about it was in this article: written by a brilliant philosophy professor at Stanford named John Perry. He is a procrastination advocate. The second time I heard someone mention it was this morning in a James Altucher podcast with the fellow I mentioned the other day who wrote Originals — these guys are also both procrastination advocates. The trick is that instead of just procrastinating mindlessly, you have to strategically procrastinate.

Let’s use me for an example. I have a research paper due Monday, right? Yeah, I know. It sucks, and I don’t want to do it. So I’m putting it off. Now that we’ve established my status, let’s think about all of the time that we have between now and Sunday evening when I will really put my pen to the paper and get it done. In what way can I spend that time?

One way to handle it is to put the paper completely out of my mind and spend the next two days gallivanting around doing nothing important. The other way to handle it is to put the paper completely out of my mind and spend the next two days working on other tasks that I also need to get done, but are a tad more appealing than the paper. The latter is called structured procrastination.

There are two branches of benefits when it comes to structured procrastination — one is in a creative sense, while the other is more logical. They work separately, and they work together.

1. Benefits of Procrastination as a Creative Exercise

Research shows that when people are introduced to a new idea and told to conceptualize and execute straight away, they are more efficient, but also narrow-minded in the resulting product. When the same participants were given an idea, then told to back off from it for a while and play Minesweeper before later returning — they were 28% more creative in their results (statistics drawn from Adam Grant’s book Originals). The primary conclusion behind this research is that when people allow their subconscious minds to mull over an idea for a while (ideally while actively engaging the brain, e.g. Minesweeper) they usually come back to the drawing board with a broader and more interesting range of ideas. Pair that with the pressure of finishing on time and the old “desperation breeds invention” concept, and kabam! Creativity.

2. Benefits of Procrastination Logistically

This branch is more like what I’m doing right now — I’m putting off doing my research paper, but in the meantime I’ve nearly finished writing this awe-inspiring post, and I’ve organized all of my travel photos into subfolders for use in a project I’m putting together. The idea behind procrastinating logistically is that although I am procrastinating the big task, I am instead accomplishing a series of smaller tasks and still getting things done. Eventually, something will come my way that is even more demanding than the research paper, and the paper will become the task done while procrastinating. You see? It’s brilliant!

3. How They Work Together

Now, if I am actively engaging my brain while procrastinating (from Part 1) by accomplishing this series of small tasks (from Part 2), perhaps my research paper will be approximately 28% more creative than it would be had I forced myself to get it done early. Take that, world!

Just remember — next time you find yourself procrastinating, do something productive while you’re putting off whatever it is, and you can kiss the guilt of procrastination goodbye.