Don’t Just Procrastinate. Make It Do The Work For You Instead.

A hand sticking out from under the sheets, with

I’ve always used procrastination as a power tool. For example, I use it as motivation to clean the house. All I need to do is start writing and the laundry will magically take care of itself.

Which brings us to the topic of productive procrastination (that shall henceforth be known as PP, hee hee). Can we actually leverage our lazy tendencies to get more done? Or is it doing us more harm than good?

Let’s find out.

The different procrastinations

I know you already know what procrastination is. After all, it only takes being human to know what it’s like to put off your important work.

You know the drill: have a task to complete, choose to watch all 10 seasons of Friends instead, panic a day before your deadline, done. That’s typical procrastination. Nothing new there.

Then there’s PP: you’ve got a big project due but you choose to organise your sock drawer, alphabetise your spice cabinet or, in my case, chop vegetables for prep (hey, it’s therapeutic). Then you panic a day before deadline and the rest is pretty similar.

Sure, you’re still putting off work with PP, but the substituted tasks aren’t bad by any standards. That’s especially true when you compare them to falling down the YouTube rabbit hole or window shopping on Amazon.

Is PP sounding super good to you right now? Maybe you’ve finally found a justification for all the work you’ve been avoiding. And maybe you want to upgrade from a small PP to a big one.

Well, not so fast. Let me present you with the pros and cons so you can come to a more informed decision.

Con #1: You can’t be present

I love the house-cleaning joke. In fact, I love the horse-beating trope of writing and procrastination. Need to clean the house for guests that are coming over? Just write a novel. Ha ha. So funny. Until I realise that I can’t clean the house unless I write.

Plus, it kills my ability to live in the moment too. I would promise myself I’d write a chapter, then end up vacuuming the rug, all the while thinking about the work I’ve yet to do.

The only way I can be present is by doing the exact thing I’m supposed to. And if I’m constantly chastising myself for not keeping my own word, then what’s to be of my self-image?

It also removes deep thinking, because you can’t get into flow when you simply skim the surface of your work.

Plus, attention residue is a thing, and splitting your attention between two tasks for an hour doesn’t mean you’ll get an hour’s worth of work done. You’ll also have to factor in the wastage. And the more you switch between tasks, the more time you lose to the procrastination gods.

Con #2: You become better at procrastination

Believe it or not, procrastinating isn’t a skill worth celebrating.

But we could get so good at it that we end up being better at pretending to work than actually working. Which is why having competence at avoidance is a curse you don’t want to be stuck with.

How do I know? Because I’m rushing this post out today, hours before it’s supposed to be published. This is despite having had an entire week to write. What did I do with all that time? I don’t know. Mopped the floor, I guess.

Plus, when you get better at substituting actual work for ad-hoc tasks, you’ll tend to be that person who sucks at all trades, and the master of none.

Con #3: Anxiety becomes a regular visitor

What happens when you have a pending task that you constantly ignore? Your conscience starts losing faith in you. Prolong the habit and you could very well perpetuate the cycle of anxiety and low self-esteem.

Because let’s face it. You can have a neat desk and an organised spice rack, but that won’t matter if your novel remains a to-do for eight years.

Some of our goals may be arbitrary. And it may seem self-indulgent to chase them. But once you set a goal, you have to at least try to reach it. Otherwise, your conscience will remind you of how little you can trust yourself, and boy does self-doubt suck.

Pro #1: You get to salvage the bad days

Because no matter how much you’ve procrastinated, you can always have a backup task that you did for the day.

Yeah, you may not have filed the taxes, but it feels great to kick back to a clean home. Or you may not have worked out, but at least you got the groceries done, right?

We’re human, and we can’t operate on the same level every day (which, by the way, I discuss in this post how we can optimise both good and bad phases in life). So it’s great to have at least procrastinated on a task you can be proud of.

Couple that with the method of living your days in quadrants and you’ll always find a way to better your day. All thanks to your PP.

Pro #2: It’s a good way to build routine

I spit so much game about cleaning the house that you’d think I’m a disciplined homemaker. Nope. I just write a lot.

This is what Atomic Habits author James Clear calls habit stacking. It involves applying a new habit on top of an established one.

Now, I know he didn’t mean for me to butcher the term like this, and he probably won’t condone this, but that’s how I build new habits. I just add my new habits to when I procrastinate, and boy, do I procrastinate. A lot. Heck, I just opened a new tab to browse for chef knives while writing this paragraph.

Still, if you’re a major procrastinator like I am, you can at least use your PP to build a new habit you’ve been meaning to. And if you discover that your new habit is more procrastination-worthy, then yay! At least your initial task will now seem less painful.

Pro #3: You can hit your day running

Even though your substitute tasks aren’t truly your life goals, it’s still thrilling to stack wins in your day. There’s just something magical about getting things done before everyone else wakes up.

I’ve found that I generate more momentum when I start with small things. Like putting the dishes back in the drawer, or wiping down my bathroom mirror.

Those tasks may seem trivial, but we don’t function in a vacuum, and sometimes all it takes is that one tiny nudge to get the productivity going.

On the days I really don’t feel like working out, I’ll tell myself to just do 15 minutes of easy exercises. And I won’t even push myself to sweat. What often results is a full hour of working out, with the extra energy to tackle the rest of my day.

It’s often the things I do outside of writing that get me to actually write.

Beware the pitfall of busywork

On the flip side of PP, you have busywork: the act of tackling seemingly-productive tasks which only make your life busier, not better.

That’s the equivalent of devouring self-improvement posts without actually taking action. Or brushing your teeth seventeen times a day. Sure, the tasks themselves may be good for you, but that doesn’t mean more is always better.

Other less-obvious but insidious forms of busywork include doing admin tasks that could be automated, taking on unimportant paperwork, or setting up meetings just to seem productive.

My revelation with busywork came to me during my time as a copywriter for a tech school. You typically wear different hats when working in a startup, and one of mine was to subtitle videos.

I’d spend hours every day, thinking I was contributing to the company, only to have my boss tell me to focus on the 80% that mattered. It was then that I learned how easy it was to assume I was productive just because I was busy.

Use your PP

Sometimes, taking action is much better than theorising the perfect solution. A little bit of wabi-sabi never hurt anyone, after all.

The point I want to make is this: don’t get carried away with the method. You could use PP to trick yourself into action, or you could end up wasting time on busywork.

But if you remember to stay mindful of why you’re doing what you’re doing, you’ll be golden.

I guess that’s why I managed to finish this post. Because I finally decided to stop playing with my PP.

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59 thoughts on “Don’t Just Procrastinate. Make It Do The Work For You Instead.

  1. Here is me wanting check out procrastination off my list😂. Thankful you wrote the the cons first if not, I’d have read the pros alone and just justify my procrastinating habit😂.
    I haven’t written in a while due to procrastination, I’ll be intentional this year tho. Thanks so much for this.


  2. Ahahah, that really was a fun post, even though it hit a bit too close to home 😂 What do you mean “procrastinating isn’t a skill worth celebrating”?? I’ve perfected it for years!! 😂 Anyway, that was really some valuable insight, and just the other day I realised that I finally did something I had been meaning to do for a while just to avoid doing another, more annoying task! I’m also the same when it comes to cleaning and tidying up my house, which are things that I usually do when I should be working or doing more important stuff… but hey, at least I do them right? 😁


    • Maybe that’s the way we should approach life. Just have a chain of to-dos ready so that we can get the other to-dos done :P

      Did you finally crack the code? Mayhaps we shall package this and sell it as a seminar. Lol. Happy procrastinating your way to success!

      Liked by 1 person

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  4. To me PP is another way to look at doing something else that you can focus which can be umbrella’d under that but to me no matter the terminology, when your mind wanders we try to find something we can focus and say we accomplished it.


  5. I definitely feel that anxiety when I procrastinate over an important task. I also find that I try to make up for it in multitasking, and then everything gets a little sketchy. My favorite point was about using that PP to generate some momentum; I could ramp up to the large tasks and check them off the list!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah. Relevant to your life or not, getting things done does lend a sense of accomplishment, and sometimes, that’s exactly what we need to nudge us into the actual task.

      But yeah, listening to our conscience is always the best, because it never lies.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. “that person who sucks at all trades, and the master of none.” Ah, good one.
    “your novel remains a to-do for eight years.” Made me lol, but also, dang, the truth of that, except it’s more get it published in my case. I don’t even have a clean house to show for it.
    “Heck, I just opened a new tab to browse for chef knives while writing this paragraph.” For reals? Ha! Not fountain pens??

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Busywork! Good note my friend. Beware keeping busy not for some happy, fun, freeing end but as a distraction device. Dive in, be patient with yourself and do things for fun, with love, to defeat the habit of putting things off.



    • I’ve come to realise that the things I have to do (to realise my literary dreams, for instance) will always involve dread (actually writing). With that in mind, it becomes so much easier to accept the not wanting to do things and just do it anyway. Thanks for your timely reminder!


  8. Haha I’ve been doing this a lot recently and PP sounds like the perfect term for what it is 😂 Usually, making phone calls triggers my PP mode and suddenly I have the urge to whip out my laptop and get work done, just so I could avoid the whole process of waiting hours only for my phone call to get cut off, or not getting my question answered, or having to go through multiple transfers, or having to have all my files and documents readily prepared so I don’t sound like a nervous wreck.


    • Lolol. I also have the same coping strategy for when my partner has friends over. To avoid my disdain for small talk, I just suddenly become busy with housework.

      But I guess it’s good that we’re aware, right? At least we know what exactly we’re avoiding. And that allows us to be mindful of how avoidant we are. Hopefully, over time, we can keep shortening the time between delay and action.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Ahhh…the unavoidable realities of procrastination. It’s every writer’s bane, though now thanks to you, we can see the benefits too haha! Thanks Stu for this timely post as I wrestle this 2nd mth of 2023 with how to PP my way back to a regular routine of writing, having had a rather slow start to the year after taking a month-long break in Dec. Onward! (But wait is that a new episode of ____?) sheepish grin


    • If only I weren’t so good at procrastinating, I’d be able to do the actual things that need doing, lol. But now I’m justifying it with a clean house. Hoping that you find your writing mojo as we barrel through 2023!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Great Post Stuart. I can relate so much to everything and was laughing with you at all you recalled. Been there, done that and have the t-shirt. Unfortunately I think I need more PP … or you can come visit. I do research or other work tasks to avoid the housework lol. But despite that, I’m still doing major tasks at the last moment … or maybe I’m just engaging in plain P and need to graduate to PP 😆


    • Well I guess your housework is my writing then! Maybe it’d be good if we were to switch places. I wouldn’t mind a slightly messier house for a completed manuscript :P

      I actually think that the last-minute thing is a feature, not a bug. We still get things done, right? It’s just that there’s unnecessary stress involved, but maybe that’s exactly what we need to function, lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I love your sentence “Your conscience starts losing faith in you.” Wow wow wow -true, well-worded and insightful. I also loved reading about all your tricks because they sound so familiar- like popping up a browser window while I’m in the middle of writing.

    I find that I have a sweet spot of busyness where I can get stuff done without procrastinating. But if I’m too busy or not busy enough, all bets are off.

    Such interesting post. Thanks, Stuart!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that part of why I’m shy (or always put others before myself) is because my conscience hates me for all the personal promises I’ve broken.

      Now that I’ve kept my promises for a while, I really see the difference in how I look at myself.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Wynne!


  12. I agree! I am guilty of PP for sure. When there is that one task, I’m hesitant (but often need) to do, I can be very productive doing almost anything else. It works if the task isn’t urgent, I suppose, but I think it is better to avoid it whenever possible. Get the hard work done first. and I don’t think multitasking has ever helped my productivity, and I will keep your tips in mind. This post inspires me to get that one assignment done that I’m dreading. Thanks for sharing!


    • Yup. I don’t condone PP at all even though it does help with life somewhat. The thing we know we should do is the exact thing we should do. I keep telling myself that. But then there I go again dusting the TV set or wiping the fan, while my novel itself does the dust-collecting, lol. Thank you for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Attention residue? 😊😉😉 I love that phrase, Stuart! And…I can relate to it. In the quest for productivity, I eclipse my output (often) by toggling and trying to do several things at once. And yes…I am at my most creative, LOL, when trying to delay writing tasks…days when I’m not “feeling it”. Come on over – we have the cleanest grout in town! 😁😁😁

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Oh boy, I gotta say I rely on pp. I get stuff done, but not much room to spare at the end.
    Geez, I really should go back to my old motivational slogan, “Just Do It”. ( ok, I really come up with this slogan) 😊


  15. I have never thought about the idea of Productive Procrastination, this is very interesting. I side on the fact that PP or any form of P is bad, I try to live by te concept of upfront pain for longer-term pleasure. I used to P a lot when I was at Uni but now that I am a couple of years out and building a business around my blog, I cannot afford to do this!

    Setting intentional habits and setting clear goals that can only be attained with daily work has really helped. Great post Stuart!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah. At the end of the day, not doing the task you need to do is still not doing it after all, no matter how well you do the PP tasks. I mean, as a fellow jiujitero, I can definitely see the purpose of upfront pain (or just pain for growth, in general). Love your thoughts. Thanks for sharing!


  16. Hey Stuart. Great post and I’m reading your post as a means of PP. Hmmm, “living in the moment” never worked for me. More of a “go with the flow” kinda person. Over time I have evolved PP into an art. Of course, this is not to be confused with normal P. It is amazing how “kicking the can down the road” can add clarity to a problem, or incentivize, or motivate. You are absolutely right, with it comes anxiety. I’m really happy, feeling good, in control, all because I am ahead of the blog posting game – unlike you I have 6 written and scheduled. Normally I am scrambling at the last minute.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I go through phases. Sometimes I have a month’s worth of blog posts prepared. Other times I’m like now—scurrying to post each article as Tuesday rolls around.

      PP is better than P, but at the same time, PP is still P, lol. But knowing me, I procrastinate so much that they both meld together. Am getting too good at procrastinating.

      Thanks for your thoughts as always, Danny!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I agree with you here, Stuart, procrastination is a skill that should be admired. Some of us have taken years to master it. Like you, I have a very clean house and lots of blank pages. I like your thought of striking a balance with procrastination. Sometimes it can be a friend as well as an enemy. As you rightly say, mindfulness is the key.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “I have a very clean house and lots of blank pages.”

      I love this! Hahaha. Describes my struggle with writing so well. But yeah, whichever way we fall on the spectrum, the most important is that we know why exactly we’re procrastinating!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Procrastination was one of Bloganuary prompts provided by wordpress. I read so many that I have many view points now😃. I think sometimes we need some movement before we start a tabletop activity and so cleaning the house maybe a good activity. You are not procrastinating 😊😊.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love your positive take on this. Maybe that’s what I should tell myself from now on :P

      That’s probably also why I get the best ideas post-exercise. Maybe I should exercise first thing in the morning instead of trying to write. Maybe there’s a rhythm to this.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

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