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.

The Case for Telecommuting

Generally speaking, the business world is moving toward offering workers greater flexibility and embracing remote work. There are a number of reasons why.

The ban on allowing Yahoo employees to work from home has garnered a lot of attention, most of it negative. For many individuals who have had the experience of working from home, and for many businesses that have made more flexible options available to workers, the move looks like a big step back. When a large-scale tech company in an industry that values being on the cutting edge moves in the opposite direction of progress, people will definitely have loud opinions on the subject.

Marissa Mayer isn’t the only person who associates working from home with lower productivity, but for many it’s a snap judgement based on bias rather than evidence.

Telecommuting has a wide variety of benefits that make it a good tool for attracting talent, keeping workers happy, and, often, getting better work out of people. Here’s why:

1. It shows you trust the people working for you.

When you send the signal in a workplace environment that you don’t feel the people working for you can be trusted to do their jobs without supervision and micromanagement, you’re insulting them. In many cases, people will behave the way they’re expected to. If a business doesn’t show respect and trust to its workers, there’s a good chance they’ll care less about the work they do.

2. It’s good for the environment.

This pretty well speaks for itself. The less people driving long distances or sitting in traffic every day, the better for all of us.

3. Time saved increases productivity.

Someone who saves, say, half an hour each day or more by skipping the commute is able to choose a more productive way to spend that time. Whether that means getting started on work earlier, or doing some exercise (which will help improve energy levels), the result is likely to be an improvement for both the business and the individual.

4. It’s just as easy to procrastinate in an office as it is at home.

The distractions may differ, but they’re still there. Whether it’s chatting with co-workers, attending to the needs of family, or browsing the web, there will always be something to distract from a full 8-hour day of work. The fact is, where you’re located has little to do with how likely you are to procrastinate.

5. Spending more hours “working” in an office isn’t necessarily more productive.

There’s clear evidence that longer workweeks don’t mean more work gets done – they just leave people more tired. If part of the concern about allowing people to work from home is that they’ll spend less time doing work, who cares? If an individual’s productivity drops, talk to that individual to figure out the cause. It’s lazy to blame it on a system that works well for many.

6. You can choose the best talent.

If you’re open to hiring people regardless of where they live, you can pick the best of the best. If you’re only open to working with people within driving distance of your offices, or willing to move for the position, you lose out on a lot of good potential candidates.

7. It’s easier to take less sick and vacation days.

It’s a lot easier to get a little work in when you’re not feeling well, in between naps and bowls of soup, if you’re able to sit a computer on your lap in bed. It’s also easier to make trips to spend needed time with out-of-town friends and family without leaving all of your work behind. The lines between work time and personal time blur a bit when you have more choice in which is which. For some, that wouldn’t be seen as a benefit, but it makes it easier to work during the times you know you’re most productive, and take off the times you’re not, which equals greater efficiency overall.

8. The technology’s available to make communication as easy as it needs to be.

Skype is free. Google + Hangouts are free. It’s easy to check email and take phone calls anywhere you need to. A lack of communication is no longer the excuse it once was, there are businesses that are 100% virtual with no problem.

9. When you treat people like responsible adults, they tend to act like it.

If you give people reasons to care about their job, they’ll be inclined to do it well. Somebody who works best from home and appreciates the added benefits it affords has a good incentive to do good work in order to keep up the lifestyle they enjoy. Someone who’s unhappy in their job, or stressed out by a lack of work-life balance, isn’t likely to put in the same level of effort.

Working from home isn’t for everybody, but allowing it as an option for those it does work well for can benefit all involved.