Search Google for how to procrastinate and you’ll find over 800,000 hits. On Amazon, there is actually a 192-page book entitled How to Procrastinate. You can browse through the Google search or buy the book, but are you really going to get around to doing that? In this post I’ll share some thoughts on procrastination so maybe you too can become an expert and save your Internet and reading time for something else.
How Not to Procrastinate
As Alexander Kjerulf wrote in his post on procrastination, most people “will tell you that there is only one reliable way to get stuff done:
1. Check to do-list for next item
2. Complete item no matter what it is
3. Go to step 1
Seems simple enough and I think everyone gets it, but who actually does that until their to-do list is done? Besides, is the list is ever done? At some point everyone has to procrastinate. For those who refuse to use the term procrastinate, just swap out procrastinate with ‘take a break’. Maybe it will make you feel less like a slacker. So if everyone does it, how do you do it well? Let’s talk about why people procrastinate first.
Pressure Creates Focus
A recent op-ed in CSU Sacremento’s The State Hornet talks of the pressure that procrastination induces. Pressure, in turn, creates focus and focus can lead to incredible results if you give yourself the time to complete thoughtful, quality work. Unfortunately, most people allow the pressure of an externally imposed deadline to induce the pressure necessary for focus.
When you don’t control your pressure points, you’ll lose focus because you’ll spend time panicked about your deadline rather than appropriately focused on quality work. Plan your procrastination. Expect it. Want to do it. Create and control your pressure to make it work for you rather than against you.
Start by reviewing your project due dates, exam schedule and organization responsibilities, and set your own due dates earlier than what is required. Pre-set your deadlines according to the importance of the task at hand. The bigger the task, the more lead time you should set for your deadline.
When you set advance deadlines for all of your project work, exam studying and organization responsibilities, you’ll be less likely to re-adjust back to the actual deadline because that time will already be occupied by something else. Once you’ve set your final deadlines, use reverse planning techniques so you can appropriately schedule your time. Expect to procrastinate and build it in.
High Quality Procrastination
Everyone procrastinates differently. One person’s time wasters are another’s networking activities. Take a week and track what you do when you (or others) consider yourself to be procrastinating. (Seriously, do this now.) After your week, review your list with a critical eye and divide your list into two categories – time wasters and high quality procrastination. Some things will fall onto both lists. Social networks? Sometimes networking…other times a time waster (Farmville anyone?). However your list divides out, I’ll trust that you divided it honestly.
When you do procrastinate, your goal is to reduce the time you spend on time wasters (not necessarily eliminating them – sometimes you just have to watch that 1:30 am Comedy Central re-run) and increase the time you spend on your high quality procrastination, fully understanding that you are not increasing your overall time spent procrastinating. Your high quality procrastination should focus on one of four areas.
Maybe the project you are working on now is just not that interesting and you’re not motivated to work on it. Instead, do something else on your to-do list that has your interest – another project, reading for class or doing your laundry. It may not be what you need to work on right this instant, but it needs to get done at some point, anyway.
Health and Wellness
Do something to take care of yourself. Exercise, sleep, shower, cook. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something that has a lasting effect on your well-being.
Heading to a party isn’t exactly what we’re after here (It’s not really a time waster per se, but not necessarily productive time either). Spend time with faculty, advisors and friends either in person or on social networks to develop meaningful connections with people.
Learn something. Read for fun, browse your RSS feed, write for your blog or campus newspaper, or develop connections with your campus by attending campus cultural or athletic events that you might not explore otherwise – you’re procrastinating, what do you have to lose?
Bottom line: Procrastinate. Everyone does it. Plan your work and your procrastination to create the pressure that will provide the focus in support of your productivity. Learn to procrastinate well by choosing activities that are supportive of your personal development rather than always choosing time wasters.
What do you think? Make it a good day.
Mike Severy is the Director of Student Life at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He views his work through the lens of student leadership development believing that students are developed over time through a series of meaningful experiences and that his role is to help students create and find the meaningful experiences in their lives. Eventually he’ll get around to creating a LinkedIn profile. Until then you can connect with Mike on Twitter (@MikeSevery).