This is a guest post by Niraj Ranjan. He is the founder of Hiver (formerly GrexIt), an app the lets you share Gmail labels with other Gmail users. Niraj works on programming, customer support, sales, and contributes to design and UI.
You’ve got an important project coming up, but instead of doing it, you find yourself reorganizing your bookshelves or watching videos on Youtube. Sounds familiar, right? But here’s some good news: procrastination is not always a bad thing.
In many cases, this “wasted time” can actually be used as a way to boost your productivity.
Now that I have been running my company for over four years now, I have concluded that procrastination is very helpful at times. At my startup, there is a “procrastinator’s board” where each employee is encouraged to list out the specific items that they want to accomplish on the next day. Because this board is for everyone to see, it works really well with providing both motivation and accountability. When an item is placed on the board, the task or project it is almost always completed the very next day. And, more often than not, the tasks are well-executed too.
You can often learn something from your procrastination, when you take the time to analyze it. Here are five ways you can use your procrastination to boost your productivity:
1. Finish the smaller tasks first.
Procrastination sometimes feels like a way of wasting time, but what if it’s not? An essay written by Stanford professor John Perry shows how structured procrastinators are actually more productive. According to this essay, procrastinators are rarely doing “nothing.” They just avoid the most important work by replacing it with something else. So in many cases, you are building momentum by tackling the easier tasks first. You might clean, pay bills, work on another project, send out overdue emails, or do something else. In the end, you will likely get around to doing the thing you’re supposed to do.
Action Step: Make a to-do list and place the most important task at the top. If you feel like you can’t get started on the important task right now, just work your way up from the bottom by focusing on the easier tasks. This way your procrastination is actually a way of building momentum. Once you’ve knocked out a few tasks, move on to the most important task.
2. Use procrastination to become more creative.
Bill Gates once famously said, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” In some cases, we put off doing work because it is too hard. You can change that up by making the work easier. Invent a new approach to do the same task and simplify it. If you’re not sure, ask someone else to get some outside perspective.
Action Step: Instead of having an anxiety attack because you haven’t completed your work, be mindful. Listen to your procrastination. What is it trying to tell you? Is doing the task a bad idea? Is there a different way to do the task? Being mindful will help you come up with creative solutions.
3. Give yourself a break.
In order to procrastinate better, you need to change the way you go about it. Decide in advance how long your break will be. Sensible, short breaks will help your urge to procrastinate. Use your break as a time to regain some mental clarity. If you have been in the same position for too long, get up and take a walk. You’ll find that you feel better when you get back to work. And don’t forget to use a timer to keep yourself on track.
Action Step: Measure how much time you spend working versus how much time you spend procrastinating to take intelligent breaks. You can use a website like Rescuetime which runs in the background observing your browsing habits. It will make graphs of how much time you spend productively and how much time you spend watching videos or browsing social media websites. It is important to know where you are procrastinating. Be honest about your habit and also know where exactly your time is going. Remember that you will have more energy during certain hours in the day. Look for any patterns of procrastination and take breaks when needed to boost your productivity.
4. Use deadlines to motivate you.
In some cases, you may procrastinate because you like to work under pressure. This study suggests that the more complicated a task is, the more time you think you have to do it. In our minds we think that since the task requires a lot of time to complete, it must be farther off in terms of the due date than it actually is. When the clock strikes, panic mode starts and then you do our best to complete it. This seems especially true for people in creative fields. Deadlines become a motivational tool that leads to creativity.
Action Step: Set a personal deadline before the actual deadline. Have milestones of progress that you should reach by a specific date. This way, you will still have the rush of the deadline without actually missing the deadline. Consider texting or calling a friend to help keep yourself accountable.
5. Use procrastination for decision making.
Procrastination can actually help you make better decisions. Frank Partnoy, the author of Wait: The Art and Science of Delay says that when faced with a decision, we should assess how long we have to make it, and then wait until the last possible moment to do so.
Action Step: Weigh out the pros and cons for a decision you need to make. Even after this step, you may need some time to feel right about the decision. Use a deadline as mentioned above in number four so you can stay on target.
You know the difference between taking break that will recharge you giving you a fresh perspective and a break that will completely derail your progress. Self-awareness is the underlying issue with procrastination. Once you are aware of (and intentional about) what you are doing, you will find you can get more work done. Use this tool of self-awareness to help you procrastinate in ways that boost your productivity.
Spend a few minutes (here’s a timer for you to use) using one of the action steps above and please share what you did in the comments.