Can Procrastination make you more Productive?

Posted 08/06/14 by James and filed under:

In recent article on Business Insider Maggie Zhang  takes a look at this question. She found some support for the idea from  Stanford Professor John Perry. John Perry thinks that he is more productive by being what he calls a “Structured Procrastinator”.

Here is how Professor Perry defines structured procrastination:

“Procrastination means not doing what you’re supposed to be doing,” he says. “Structured procrastination means you don’t waste your time. When you’re avoiding another task, you do something else instead.”

I thought this was an interesting way to look at the subject of procrastination. I’ve always considered procrastination as a bad thing, something to work to correct. But could a slightly different take on procrastination actually be a good thing? In one example, he knows his grades are due by Monday, but he says he will likely procrastinate and do them late Sunday and instead clean out the garage. As he says, I’ll still get them done, but I will have also done a major household chore. The key is to make use of the procrastination time to get other useful stuff done.

In other words, if you just surf the web, or check out the latest cat video your lonely friend has posted on Facebook, you are doing the old fashioned, not so good kind of procrastination. Instead, if you make a conscious choice to take care of some of your next actions (on GTDNext of course), then you may actually be getting more done in the long run.

The reason? Perfectionism and time compression. If you give yourself four hours to do a task, you will likely either do the best possible job you can or end up doing the job inefficiently.    The problem with the perfection route, Perry argues, is that it is often unnecessary. If you consciously make the choice to work on a few other tasks instead of doing your important task, then you end up getting more done in the long term.  

When it comes to implementation, Perry has some interesting ideas. According to Maggie, Perry suggests keeping two lists. One for quick daily wins and one for your larger, more strategic to-do’s. On the daily list, you should have small things, like “get out of bed”,  “make coffee”, and “drink coffee”.  Perry says this helps give you a sense of achievement at the start of the day (an idea he got from the Japanese). He goes on to suggest that you keep a pretty easy to-do, but not super important task at the top of your main to-do list. This way, when you do start practicing your “structured procrastination” you will have some other tasks that needed to get done anyway, prepped and ready to be completed.

I’m not sure I totally agree with this “structured procrastination” premise.  In fact, it blatantly goes against against the book I summarized in recent blog article called “Eat That Frog”. I did like some of his ideas about getting quick wins to start your day and keeping a few easy to-do items on top of your list.   It’s the part of the strategy where he suggests you put off your important tasks to the very end that doesn’t quite sit well with me. However, I understand that everyone approaches work a bit differently. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa.

What I suggest is that you try both approaches and see which works best for you. You need to do this in a purposeful way. For example, you could try  the “Structured Procrastinator” method for the next few weeks or a month, and then try the “Eat that Frog” method for the month after. Compare your results, focusing on stress levels and happiness. Which works better for you? Let me know in the comments area below.