Practice Productive Procrastination
“Procrastination is my sin. It brings me naught but sorrow. I know that I should stop it. In fact, I will — tomorrow”
–Ancient High School English Teacher Proverb
I’ve spent the past three weekends feeling anxious about not accomplishing much, so it seemed like a good time to collect some of the methods I use to get unstuck.
I accept a certain level of dilly-dallying always occurs, so I plan for it and try to at least spend my time practicing productive procrastination, even if it’s not always working on the task at hand. These are a few things that work for me. Your results may vary. When I say you, I mean me.
- Open the document. Always start here. You might accidentally start work without realizing.
- Start banging keys — even if it’s meaningless junk, it helps to not stare at an empty page or blank canvas.
- Organize your photos. You’re never going to be discovered without proper meta tags and Creative Commons licensing.
- Put on headphones and listen to a podcast, audiobook, or talk radio. One of my biggest time sucks is reading news articles, which I personally can’t do if I’m listening to people talk. Having a consistent voice in the background helps me focus on what’s in front of me.
- Clean. Doing dishes is often motivation enough for me to actually want to do the real task instead. Dusting is best for reflective work.
- Doodle. It can be scribbles. You can close your eyes. It can even be that weird snake with robot claw arms you always draw. Anything to get the pen moving to the point you’ve distracted yourself.
- Make a list and outline what you know already and what work needs to be done.
- Go for a walk—be it in nature or for the call of nature.
- Write a blog, unless you’re trying to write a blog. In that case, write a different blog.
- Make more coffee. (Warning: make sure you’ve eaten, or else you’re just going to start shaking and wishing you were dead.)
- Organize your files. Those ten folders on your desktop named “TO ORGANIZE X” aren’t going to delete themselves.
- Start working. If you’re still stuck, open up a side project and work on that instead. Several of my most ambitious creative endeavors have all happened when I’ve been on a tight deadline for something else.
- Take a break and give yourself the day off. Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to completely put it away and give your conscious mind a rest. Inspiration is often your own subconscious solving a problem when given the space.
Whatever you do, do not get stuck in the Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr / Social Network Flavor of the Week refresh cycle. When you find yourself mindlessly clicking from site to site, close the tab, close your browser, close your laptop, get up, and walk away from the computer. That should be enough time for you to check your phone to see if anyone’s posted something new on Instagram.
A shorter version of this post was originally published October 21st, 2015 on LinkedIn Pulse. Guess how many days it languished as a draft here first. Also, shoutout to Austin Kleon’s great Steal Like an Artist for getting the alliterative “practice productive procrastination” in my head.