By Alyssa Gregory

Structured Procrastination: Can It Make You More Productive?

By Alyssa Gregory

ProcrastinationProcrastination is a plague we all face at some point in our lives and work. Once you’ve entered the procrastination cycle, it can be a difficult situation to push yourself out of. But, believe it or not, there can be some benefits that come with procrastinating, if you’re able to work it to your advantage.

To start, let’s take a look at some of the causes of procrastination.

The Causes of Procrastination

There are many things that can cause procrastination, and the reasons each of us tend to put things off can be vastly different for each person. Some common reasons why you might procrastinate include:

  • You have tasks or work to do that you really can’t stand doing.
  • You’re completely overwhelmed by the amount of work on your plate.
  • You’re fixated on being perfect and producing a perfect result.
  • You have a fear of failure (or even a fear of success) that stops you in your tracks.
  • You are utterly bored with what you’re doing.
  • You’re waiting for inspiration to get started.
  • You overestimate the amount of time you have to complete the work.
  • You think you will produce a better result if you wait until you’re working under pressure.

Procrastination can come from anywhere, and many times we don’t anticipate it coming, so we can’t head it off effectively. And if it hits us at the right (or wrong) time, the impact can be detrimental.


The Negative Consequences of Procrastination

If you let your procrastination get the best of you, there can certainly be some damaging results:

  • Discouragement
  • Falling behind
  • Mental exhaustion
  • Decreased self-confidence
  • Feelings of dissatisfaction with our work
  • Anxiety
  • Increased feelings of overwhelm
  • Negative impact on relationships
  • Missed deadlines and lost work

But is procrastination really all bad? No! And here’s how you can make it work for you.

Using Structured Procrastination to Get More Done

What do you do when you are putting off a specific task? Usually, we turn to something else on our lists that we consider less important. So we’re still being productive, just not in the way we feel we need to be.

But, if you reorganize your task list so your commonly procrastinated tasks are not front and center taunting you, you can trick yourself into completing the things you really need to get done.

John Perry, a professor of philosophy at Stanford University, calls this “structured procrastination.” As Perry explains, structured procrastination means shaping the structure of our tasks so the order of importance deceives our minds. Basically, using a common character flaw among procrastinators (self-deception) to counteract the impact of procrastination.

For example, instead of listing the biggest priorities on the top of our lists and giving them the most attention (and stress surrounding completion of those tasks), if we put the focus on less important tasks we are likely to move down the list to find (and more willing accomplish) the more important tasks.

After reading about structured procrastination, I realized that I tend to do this already without consciously thinking about it. I lump all of my tasks together, and mark some high priority that definitely aren’t. This allows me to feel like I have the choice about whether to tackle a task now or later if there are several that are all equal in importance. And because I feel less stress and necessity surrounding the high-priority tasks, I’m more likely to do them right away. It actually works!

Do you incorporate anything like structured procrastination to encourage yourself to get more done? Does it work for you?

Image credit: zbyszek80

  • I thought I was so smart when I came up with the idea of “precrastination” a couple years ago. This is where you realize you’re going to procrastinate anyway, so you do so by planning activities you actually like (e.g., soccer, shopping, going out for dinner) instead of just falling to activities that are easy (e.g., watching TV, surfing the web, eating junk food).

    Then I found out about Perry’s structured procrastination which uses self-brainwashing to accomplish actual work! Genius!

  • Interesting topic, and some nice techniques to take away here also. But to digress for a moment, sometimes procrastination is ok in my book. I like to think of it as ‘thinking time’ – this usually manifests itself for me when I have finished design work and am about to embark on coding. I NEVER get straight to work… I tend to conceptualise the project over a few days/weeks so the result is that when I sit down to code, i’m super fast and the work I do is structured. There’s nothing worse than rushing head first into something and running yourself in circles :)

    I’m also very cautious of the ‘cult of productivity’ because it breeds discontent in our thoughts.. even when relaxing or doing something unrelated your subconscious can be thought of as working over the problem. It is afterall the wellspring of inspiration, and those flashes of genius have their root somewhere!

    An example of this could be like learning a new skill, at a certain point we are too close to the problem, our face is right in the book, so to speak. Taking time away from the problem results in a refreshing and more considered viewpoint of the issue.

    Heh, just my 2 cents :) (from now on I’m doing-away with numbered lists!)

  • Ah yes. I’ve read the Structured Procrastination website before. These are useful tips that I use frequently.

  • firekombi

    i was going to say something, but i thought i might do it later.

  • Twittah

    @armchaircritic, I’m inclined to disagree with that idea.

    In my honest opinion, if a person procrastinates at all, it’s almost always a negative activity.

    That said, I agree it’s important to get an idea in your head and not rush immediately into a project – you start with that incredibly estatic high, before falling into some bleak feelings.

    I’d check out Sam Tornatore’s ideas regarding procrastination, they’re a bit different.

  • Maybe, i don’t know. But i have own experience, and results are different a bit ;)

  • Kell

    If procrastination is a problem for you – then I find that knowing why you procrastinate is often the first step to implementing an effective strategy to beat procrastination. However, I really like the idea of structured procrastination in order to reward yourself to start something.
    I find that knowing my reasons for procrastination allows me to tackle procrastination effectively – with divide and conquer strategies, pros and cons lists and rationalization to mention a few. I write more about the reasons and ways to beat procrastination
    All the best

  • Abelardo

    WOW! This is great, this works for me several times.

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