Productive Procrastination

How to Get Work Done When You Are Not Getting Work Done


It is late at night but you are still awake working on your project. You have already had several mugs of coffee and the one you are drinking now is not the last one. Your deadline is tomorrow but you still have a lot of work to get done. Not surprisingly, you are beginning to feel drowsy. You know you should have done your assignment before. You know you had the time to do it. Time you spent maybe on the Internet, maybe on video games or maybe just hanging around. If you are like most college students, the situation described has happened with you at least a couple thousand times. Procrastination has won, one more time.

Although we do not tend to take it very seriously, and it is usually not more than a Facebook-talk topic, procrastination is kind of a big deal. The author of “The Procrastination Equation,” Piers Steel, estimates that the costs of procrastination in the workplace amount to more than $1 trillion in the United States. But evidences of procrastination are also present in the academic world. The signs are all over campus: students watching YouTube videos at the computer labs, your roommate texting you jokes during classes, and dozens of more or less hopeless students winging it at Anschutz library right around 3 a.m.

I am pretty good at managing my time now, but I was a huge procrastinator. I peaked during my first semester of college. I had a lot of trouble getting my homework done and forgot test dates (a couple of friends still make fun of me because I arrived late for an Italian test I did not know about).

After spending half of my college life working on it, I learned a lot of techniques that helped me get more things done in less time. But there is a single trick that has been extremely important to me. I hope it can also help you.

The single technique that has helped me the most is the one Piers Steel calls “productive procrastination.” It suggests that if you are putting off a big task and cannot find the motivation to do it, you should do smaller tasks, not as urgent, but still useful. For instance, you might not feel the motivation to write that long Western Civ essay right now, but maybe you can knock off some of the math homework, practice your Spanish or do grocery shopping. These smaller tasks are not as important as the big task, but they are still required, and are probably a better use of our time than browsing through Facebook timelines or watching prank videos on YouTube (though those could spark creativity).
Of course, engaging in “productive procrastination” is not as good as non-procrastination. But it makes us much better off at the end of the day than if you did nothing at all. Give it a shot. You will like it.

Arnobio Morelix is a social entrepreneur at PESSOA Institute

*This story was first published at the UDK