How to Procrastinate Productively

by Saba Software | Posted | Performance Management

How to Procrastinate Productively

Psychologist William Knaus, who has written several self-help books on how to deal with procrastination has stated that, "It's harder to wean chronic procrastinators from the habit of delaying than to wean alcoholics from booze."

Yesterday we discussed the reasons why we may have the inclination to procrastinate. Here are some steps to avoid becoming a "raging procrastaholic" and ways managers can help their procrastinating employees be more productive.

1. Set Short-Term Goals

If you're a person who likes immediate outcomes, than distant goals have very little motivational force. Procrastinators can keep motivated by breaking big tasks down into small daily goals.

Leadership Tip: Set up daily meetings with your employee to arrange goals and track progress.

2. Get the Jobs You Dislike Most, Out of the Way First

One of the most difficult things in just about any life-situation is the infamous First Step aka "getting started". Finding motivation is already difficult. Trying to find motivation to do something you dislike, now that's the ultimate challenge. However, if you can bite the bullet and go for the icky tasks first, the outcomes are far more rewarding.

Tackle your most difficult and burdensome task first; after that, nothing will seem as bad. As the 1992 hit goes, Save the Best for Last.

3. Up the Ante

Believe it or not, the more you do, the more you can do! Taking on multiple tasks forces you to crank up your prioritizing gears. When you have a lot on your plate, you have to make time to do it. If you're more comfortable doing more than one task at once, learn how to bounce them off each other.

If boredom is what's causing you to procrastinate, then more challenging tasks may give you something to look forward to and a reason to accomplish them.

Leadership Tip: Assign tasks that will challenge your employee with a penchant for procrastination. It will give them a sense of satisfaction once they complete it and motivate them to take on more responsibility in the future.

4. Find Intrinsic Motivators

If we're happiest when we do things that make us feel good, (and procrastinators are notorious for doing not only what feels good, but what feels good now), then we need to find intrinsic value in a task in order to NOT procrastinate doing it.

This means taking on tasks that are relevant and tied to our ultimate goals. If you aren't sure what your ultimate goals are, make a list of things you value, personally and professionally, and see how a certain task can tie in to reaching those goals.

5. Turn Off the Internet

While you think you may need access to the Internet all the time, the reality is you don't. Not really. You're simply used to be able to jump online at any given moment. However that quick 5-minute check of email or Twitter can very easily turn into 30 minutes or more. Time you could have (should have?) spent on other priorities.

A very useful free Firefox plugin that can help is Leechblock. The website states:

LeechBlock is a simple productivity tool designed to block those time-wasting sites that can suck the life out of your working day. All you need to do is specify which sites to block and when to block them.

6. Set up Accountability

It's much easier to stay focused on a task when we have someone looking over our shoulder. The popular self-help blog Zen Habits suggests setting-up a "procrastination-proof environment". Find a person or better yet, a group of people that you trust to give you kick in the behind when you need it, and get them to check up on you regularly.

A radical but perhaps necessary tool you can use is Though not very well explained on their website, it basically lets others view periodic screenshots of your computer to make sure you're actually doing work. Don't worry, only the people you "allow" to can see your screen.

Structured Procrastination

Stanford professor John Perry has acquired somewhat of a cult following for his ideas on "structured procrastination". One of the vital lessons he teaches us about structuring the way we procrastinate is "If you're going to procrastinate, do other productive things instead."

Here's how he starts off his post:

"I have been intending to write this essay for months. Why am I finally doing it? Because I finally found some uncommitted time? Wrong. I have papers to grade, textbook orders to fill out, an NSF proposal to referee, dissertation drafts to read. I am working on this essay as a way of not doing all of those things."

Based on his insights and my own life lessons in battling procrastination, here are some more tips on procrastinating productively.

7. Make a Giant To-Do List

Don't want to start the task just yet? How about making a list of ALL the tasks you need to do instead, from organizing the cupboards to completing the next chapter of your book. Lists help give you a realistic scope of what needs to get done but also the ability to pick and choose what you want to do first. Once you start crossing tasks off that list, you'll find what it takes to keep going.

8. Make a Reading List

There is certainly infinite amounts of reading material that you've been wanting to read for your job but just haven't found the time to get to. Instead of surfing the net aimlessly, find relevant work articles bookmark them and put them in a folder where you can easily access them at a more convenient time.

9. Do Something Else

As Prof. Perry says,"If you're going to procrastinate, do other productive things instead". Have a look at your list, and if you simply can't bring yourself to do the task at the top of it, at least get some smaller tasks done. They may be "less" important, but you'll only gain from completing them. "When you procrastinate productively, you knock out worthwhile tasks while you put off the urgent ones."

10. Try the 30/30 System

Rather than trying to find a way to overcome procrastination, which can also help in our creativity, look to unify procrastination and productivity via the 30/30 system.

Basically, do 30 minutes of work, and 30 minutes of goofing around. This is actually a good way to trick yourself into starting a task, since beginning is always the hardest part. With the 30/30 system, you know you only have to do a little a bit of work and in half an hour you'll get a reward.

The thing is once you're on a roll, you might not want to take that 1/2 hour break. In fact, you might plow right through the task faster than you know it.

Productive Procrastination Isn't an Oxymoron

The people least prone to procrastination are those with high self-efficacy. They know, the more you do, the more you can do. And, in order to fulfill their workload dutifully, they set goals, prioritize accordingly and keep on schedule. It's no surprise that the proactive "productives" can perform a wide variety of tasks successfully because they already have high expectations of what they can achieve. A positive self-image greatly increases your likelihood of being productive and procrastinating less.

In a work setting procrastination can take a big toll. Not only is it detrimental to the procrastinator's career, but when one team member can't provide results on time, others have to fill in for them. This can destroy teamwork in the workplace.

Until recently, procrastination has been regarded as a problem synonymous with laziness. But when you think about how much effort procrastinators put in avoiding certain tasks, it's hard to call them lazy. Anxiety about a task and lack of motivation can certainly cause us to put things off. The solution is to not let these task blockers stand in our way. We can still manage to be productive by getting other minor, but worthwhile tasks done in the meantime.

Leadership Tip: Having regular performance discussions with your employees is one way managers can mitigate an employee's tendency to procrastinate on certain tasks or projects. This kind of proactive communication can bring to light hurdles or struggles your employee may be facing and that may be impacting productivity.

For more tips on how managers can motivate employees to high performance , read this article on giving effective feedback to employees.

What's your take on the above productivity tips? Have you tried any yourself or perhaps recommended them to an employee? What were the results?

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