April 12, 2013
Posted by: Calista Brill
Categories: Uncategorized

This is a photograph of my computer monitor at work.

On top of it is a rubber stamp that MK Reed gave me a few years ago. It reads,

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

–Douglas Adams


That text document is my to do list.

As you can see, my to do list is really, really long.

I fantasize frequently about getting my hands on a Time-Turner, like Hermione in Prisoner of Azkaban. Because without one, there’s basically no way I will ever, ever, ever catch up.


So the decisions I make about what to do with my time every day depend on a sort of murky alchemy of what’s going to explode, who’s going to kill me, what’s the most fun to do, and what I’m the most scared of doing.

Today, one of the things on my to do list is: write a blog post. I try to post something every couple of weeks, and I’m probably overdue. So writing up a quick post is definitely up there on my to-do list. But it’s just one of about 100 fairly urgent things on my to do list for today, and part of the reason I’m actually executing this task right now is because I’m procrastinating.

Me writing this blog post = me doing a required task for my job = me procrastinating from other required tasks for my job. This is called “Productive Procrastination” or “Positive Procrastination” or “Structured Procrastination,” depending on who’s talking about it. In any case, I’m not the first person to have identified procrastination as a neato counter-intuitive way of Getting Shit Done. You can read more in this entertaining little piece at the Times, here.

For me, procrastination boils down to fear. I avoid doing certain tasks because I’m afraid of them.

I’m afraid of doing them wrong.

I’m afraid of being bored.

I’m afraid of feeling dumb.

I’m afraid of making people mad, or sad.

I’m afraid of making them think less of me.

So certain things get pushed back and pushed back and pushed back until the fear of not doing them becomes greater than the fear of doing them. Granted, it’s not an ideal way to work, but let me tell you: I get a LOT DONE when I’m avoiding doing things. Fear is a great motivator! Consider the mental math of the reasonably responsible human person: “I will allow myself to spinelessly shirk from task A,” says the reasonably responsible human person, bargaining with herself, “because I will make it up, karma-wise, by doing all of task B, right now.” Task B gets done. Are you ready to tackle task A now, R.R.H.P.? No? You’re so bad. Make it up to the world by kicking task C out of the park. Great job, R.R.H.P! Now, about task A… Oh, you want to take a look at task D? Why not.

Look, task A gets done eventually. I’m not a complete monster. But a couple of days of avoiding task A can work wonders when it comes to tasks B through K.

I didn’t always think about my work habits in this light. I’ve always worked this way, but it used to feel like a failure, like I was a weakling for not tackling the scary things first. But every attempt to reform was a bust. So I guess I’ve sort of learned to lean into it – to embrace it. And if you’re like me – if you get a lot of stuff done by procrastinating – I recommend that you stop beating yourself up about it, and start managing it smartly. It really works!

Now I’m going to go find some other (presumably) useful thing to do while avoiding tasks A, L, R-U inclusive, and Z.

Oh, the dreaded Z.

2 Comments on “ Productive Procrastination ”

  • Dave Allen | April 12th, 2013 4:10 pm

    Classic candidate for GTD. Being comfortable knowing what you’re not doing is fine, as long as you KNOW.

  • Kell | April 14th, 2013 3:07 am

    My mother’s favourite quote comes from Robert Benchley, “Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at the moment.” She uses it to tell me off when I get distracted, but I like your interpretation better.

    From one procrastinator to another, thanks for the tip. I’m off to do any amount of work!

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