How To Make Procrastination A Force For Productivity

With a little bit of manipulation, your do-it-later urges can actually help you get a lot done now.

How To Make Procrastination A Force For Productivity

Sometimes, you can use procrastination against itself.


Over at 99u, iDoneThis cofounder Adrian Chen writes about cultivating the (in)discipline of structured procrastination, a productivity technique that cooperates with your urge to put things off, so long as you get other to-do’s done now.

The technique happens in two steps:

  1. Give in to your urge to procrastinate
  2. Do a less crucial, but still productive, task

The key, then, is to make sure that you’re not clicking through Facebook photos or scrutinizing TMZ instead of doing work, but rather taking on tasks that are less frightful than that Very Important Task that you ought to be getting done. So, in reality, there are three steps:

  1. Give in to your urge to procrastinate
  2. Avoid time-wasting fluffery
  3. Do a less crucial, but still productive, task

Think of your tasks as the diet that they are: Just because you don’t eat the garden salad of taxes doesn’t mean that you have to gorge yourself on the Bloomin’ Onion of reaction GIFs. The key is to stay in the nutritious parts of your pyramid, to say nothing of marshmallows.

As Chen writes, structured procrastination transforms a negative habit into something much more positive.

You can take that feeling of ‘I’d rather do anything than this particular thing’–which normally sends you to sort the sock drawer or go on a Netflix spree–and use it as a force for productivity.

It’s a hack popular at Fast Company: in our excerpt of his book Wait, author Frank Partnoy riffed on the same essay that Chen draws from. (Partnoy, by the way, reframes highly productive procrastination as “optimal delay.”) Both Chen and Partnoy consider the arguments of Stanford philosopher John Perry, who can be seen on the essay’s site as practicing “jumping rope with seaweed while work awaits”–clearly a top-notch putter-offer.


What’s Perry’s secret? The to-do list, with the most urgent and important on top, and still-worthwhile tasks live down below. Ergo, in order to not do the Very Important Thing, you do the Still Important Things, so that do-it-later turns into do.

“With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen,” Perry writes. “Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.”

Next on the to-do: organizing that task structure.

[Image: Flickr user Max Sang]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.