Productive Procrastination

I’m Going to Do This Instead!

I was coaching a client recently who was dealing with her procrastination challenges. She was baffled as to ways to deal with her repeated misbehavior: skipping the task on her list and instead wasting time on YouTube or Facebook. This is an all-too-often problem for many of my clients.

Have you experienced this? I think we all do to some degree — put off what we don’t want to do until the last possible minute, and then scramble to get it done on time, sometimes, of course, missing the deadline and having to deal with the fallout. This scenario leaves much to be desired.

Juli Shulem
Click to enlarge photo

Juli Shulem

I introduced to my client the concept of productive procrastination, which basically means that you do another — also worthy — task in place of the one you intended on doing, so at least you are doing something productive. This doesn’t excuse you from taking care of the initial task you are attempting to procrastinate away, but it does give you perhaps a little break, some distance, an opportunity to recharge, come back to it, and get it done.

Here is how it works:

First, you need to have a list of tasks to start with. You may be a list maker or someone who attempts to keep everything in your head, but at the very least, write down what you plan and need to do. Keep it on your smartphone, a computer document, a time-management system — as long as it is easy to access, it should work.

Second, prioritize the tasks so you know what you should do first, second, and so on.

Third, estimate the amount of time each of the tasks should take, and put that number in parenthesis next to the task.

When you find yourself procrastinating about a high-priority item (typically one with a deadline or a negative ramification if not done), look at your list. Select something you can do instead that takes a short amount of time, before getting back to the original task at hand.

What this accomplishes is twofold: One, it keeps you from wasting time doing something that takes you away from your goal, letting you accomplish something else important. Two, it breaks the pressure often associated with a high-priority task, giving you a new perspective and perhaps a fresh burst of energy to finish it before it turns into a problem..

So, next time you find yourself putting something off, make that time fruitful by filling it with something else that you also need to do, and voilá, at least now you are procrastinating productively.

Ask a question for the column and I will address it at the appropriate time. Email questions to Coach Juli at and put “question for column” in the subject line, and they will be answered right here. All names remain anonymous.

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