How to Make Your Procrastination Productive

Productive procrastination might sound like an oxymoron, but with the right approach you can make those unfocused hours work for you.

We all have off days. There are times when our minds are intent on focusing on just about anything that’s not the main item on our to do list. If you’re stuck in one of those periods where your brain just will not listen to reason and face the task you need to tackle, think strategically about how you can still get something accomplished during your distracted state.

1. Switch to one of the lower energy items on your to do list.

It’s rare that everything you need to get done requires the same amount of mental energy. Maybe you have some accounting you’ve been neglecting, or a spreadsheet of contacts you’ve been working on filling in. If there’s something you can work on that requires less active thought than the main work you have to do that day, focus on it first. Once you’ve actually gotten something else done, you might find that your mind is more prepared for the larger tasks you weren’t previously up for.

2. Spend that time on research and social networking.

You can always be learning more, regardless of what kind of work you do. If you spend a little time on your favorite business blogs, or interacting with professional contacts on your social networks, you can do something useful that actually feels a little like procrastination. Just don’t let yourself get stuck on Twitter or Facebook focusing on things that don’t relate to your work. Set a timer to let you know when it’s time to switch back over to other forms of work.

3. Find a way to get started on that intimidating, looming task without diving right in.

Maybe you’re trying to write an article and instead are stuck staring at a blank page. Stop unsuccessfully trying to get that intro paragraph down and focus instead on working up an outline, or just writing down some sloppy, brainstormed ideas to get the juices flowing. Often the biggest barrier to getting started is the sense of just how much you have to do. If you can find a way to ease into starting, you can overcome the main psychological barrier keeping that page blank.

4. Plan your days to get the most out of your active hours.

Sometimes we have off days, but most people also have certain times in each day that they’re less mentally alert. For me, it’s usually the hour or so after I eat lunch. Maybe for you, it’s the beginning of the day when you’re still waking up, or late afternoon when you’re just itching to be done. Pay attention to your work habits and, once you’ve identified your weak period, leave some of those lower-energy work items to focus on at that time.

5. Take a break to let yourself think.

If I’m overwhelmed by a project, facing it directly doesn’t necessarily work. To think more clearly about it and how to best approach it, I need to walk away for a little while. Whether that’s a literal walk, a long bath, or spending a little time cooking or cleaning, I’ll often find that by spending my time doing something that leaves room to think, I’ll come back to work with a better plan for accomplishing what I need to.

Content Overload: Making the Excess of Available Knowledge Work for You

We live in an age of content overload. There’s so much to do. Keeping up with ever changing industries and technological tools is a continual challenge; not to mention all the resources for entertainment and learning outside of your professional field.

Currently, I have:

  • Close to 50 blogs bookmarked
  • Hundreds of movies in my Netflix queue
  • A long list of books in my Amazon wish list (as well as those on my bookshelf I haven’t gotten to yet)
  • A sizeable list of tv shows I hope to view in their entirety in the near future
  • Hundreds of podcasts downloaded I haven’t yet listened to
    …and, of course,
  • A to do list of a variety professional intentions that’s always growing even as I work my way through it
  • I bet you could create a similar list to this.I’m fully cognizant of the privileged position I’m in historically to be able to complain of having just too much quality content at my fingertips. Even so, it does feel like a problem at times. There are so many distractions and technology is developing creative new ways to distract us further all the time.


On the other hand, technology is also creating tools to help us organize and prioritize our various lists and tasks. I wrote recently about my feelings on movie queues and wish lists, but there are also tools readily available for managing a to do list; RSS feeds to help us scan blog headlines and thus prioritize which to read fully; and, personalized ratings systems to help us weed out entertainment that’s likely not worth our time.

There’s also the wisdom of just accepting that we’re simply not going to get to all of it. That nagging to do list is going to continue to keep me from many of those movies, books and tv shows and that’s ok. I don’t seek out great stories so I can check them off a list when I complete them, I do it so I can enjoy them in the moment. My life really won’t be the poorer if I forgo that blog post about a stranger’s trip to Argentina in order to read one that teaches me something new about link building.

We’re all lucky because we get to be choosy. The content overload that occasionally feels like a curse, always reminding us of what we haven’t done yet, is really one of the great privileges of our age. Enjoy it.