Table of Contents
- The Science of Procrastination
- Hard Work May Not Be The Best Solution
- Smart Ways to Procrastinate and Get More Done at Work
- Closing Thoughts on Smart Way to Procrastinate
Is there some smart way to procrastinate and still get more done? This is a question modern Hamlet would be asking today. And, this is also the subject of this article. In the beginning, we will take a look at the science to understand what’s behind the procrastination and what it means to get more done. Then, we will discuss not just one smart way to procrastinate, but three, along with how to hack your environment for productivity. So, are you ready to dive in?
The Science of Procrastination
The first thing we should discuss is what the overall purpose of procrastination actually is. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how many tips and tools you will use, you will not find any smart way to procrastinate and be able to tap our full potential. In other words, we may get more done, but we will end up drained. In the future, this can lead to more serious health issues such as stress, occupational burnout and also depression. Does this mean that procrastination is some kind of a protection and is, therefore, good for your health? Well, not exactly.
Future and Past
One of the main reasons behind our behavior that doesn’t lead to any smart way procrastinate, but procrastination in any way is a problem between our present and future self. In one study, researchers found that participants had a tendency to care much more about their present selves and not enough about their future selves. This, as a result, also means that we enjoy immediate benefits we can have in the present moment rather than the same benefit in distant future. Another great demonstration of this principle of having favoring immediate rewards is a well-known marshmallow test or Stanford marshmallow experiment.
In this experiment, researchers tested a couple of kinds. The test was simple. These kids were given a choice to get one marshmallow immediately or two marshmallows if the will wait for about fifteen minutes. Then, researchers approached these kids about ten years later to find out how successful these people have become. Interestingly, the kids who were able to wait those fifteen minutes often ended up more successful and healthy than the rest of the group.
Hardwired to Procrastinate
Aside from this present and future self, there are also other reasons why we like to procrastinate. According to one theory, our brain is actually wired for procrastination. How? When we have to face some uncomfortable activity, there is a fight between two parts of the mind – limbic system and prefrontal cortex. When the limbic system wins, the result is that you will decide to postpone the task instead of getting it done. The limbic system is one of the oldest and most dominant portions of your brain. It runs automatically “in the background”.
On the other hand, prefrontal cortex is newer and also weaker part of your brain. Its main goal is to help you process information and make decisions. This part of the brain is what makes you human. Unfortunately, there is nothing automatic when it comes to prefrontal cortex. You have to consciously make it work. Otherwise, in any activity you do unconsciously, it is your limbic system what’s drives the show and you do only what feels good. So, here it is. Scientific proof that procrastination may not be completely your fault. The questions, can you do something about it?
Hard Work May Not Be The Best Solution
There will people willing to take the risk and just grind it out. And, they will advise you to do the same. The problem is that these people are missing or ignoring two critical things. First, they don’t care about the long-term effects of such a behavior. These people will tell you to solve every problem or obstacle by working harder than you currently do. Honestly, I have nothing against hard work, rather the opposite. My opinion is that unbreakable work ethic, hustle and laser-like focus are great traits or skills every individual should acquire and work on every day.
Still, I just consciously can’t accept the idea that hard work and grind are the best solution for every problem. In order to illustrate what I mean, imagine you are on a trip in the nature. You are standing in front of a pretty big tree. You have only one goal. You want to chop down the tree so you can make fire and cook a dinner for yourself. Fortunately, you were smart enough to take an ax with you. It is a little bit older and not as sharp is it used to be, but it is still better than table knife. Now, what will you do? A lot of people would probably take the ax and started chopping that tree.
This decision is understandable. There is a tree, you need some wood for campfire and you have an ex. Although I don’t want to distract you from your work (you can be already hungry), there is one question you should ask yourself. How sharp is the ax? Have you though about this? Would you test the sharpness of the ax? Here is the thing. The sharper the ax is, the easier it will be for you to chop down that tree. With sharper ax you will also be able to chop down that tree faster.
There is a great saying I used as inspiration for this example: “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my ax.” Do you agree with it?
The Meaning of “Get More Done”
The takeaway from the example is this. Yes, you can work hard and get more done. However, you can also find some smart way to procrastinate and even increase your productivity. This is the main goal of this article – to introduce you to a mental concept or attitude of always looking for a smart way to procrastinate and still get more done at the end of the day. In a reality, this is what distinguishes people who get more done during the day. These people are always looking for any smarter way to procrastinate and still be incredibly productive.
What’s more, these people are also able to stay in the game in the long-term. They will get more done in their life and still keep their health, both physical and mental. Unfortunately, we are rarely looking at these people as an example. One reason is that these people are often “behind the curtains”. We simply don’t hear about these people so often. On the other hand, we hear far too often about people who praise themselves for working until they collapse, at least they are saying it. If it is true, that’s the other thing.
Readers interested in productivity and how to get more done will probably know the name David Allen. If not, he is the author of Getting Things Done book and productivity system with the same name. There are two reasons I’m mentioning David Allen. First, it is almost a necessity when talking about productivity. Second, there is a great talk called The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, where he is presenting his thoughts on how to achieve stress-free productivity. By being more engaged in our lives. Meaning, the GTD method is not just about filling your to-do list.
It is about consciously choosing what needs to be done and also knowing why. Unfortunately, this is one of the concepts we often forget to implement into our productivity systems. Instead, we jump right into the mindset of get more done. Why not? If you get more done during the day, you will almost automatically consider the day as a success. Unfortunately, it is not enough just to get more done and cross out all items on your to do list. Rather than filling up with your to do list with stuff to create that illusion of productivity, GTD method suggests something different.
As I previously mentioned, David Allen made a TED talk about being more productive by being more engaged in the activity or mindful, to borrow one of the current buzzwords. In other words, there is a problem between being effective and efficient. Give me couple seconds to quickly explain these two terms. Being effective is about doing the right things. Being efficient is about doing the things in the right manner. This difference is what can help you find some smart way to procrastinate and still get more done than you would think is possible.
Do you remember the example we used to demonstrate that hard work may not be the best solution to get more done? That we may use a smart way to procrastinate and actually increase our chances to finish the task at hand faster? Let’s apply this effective vs. efficient concept to it. The default setting was you and somewhat sharp ax. In this setting, following the proverb, a smart way to procrastinate would be to spend certain time sharpening the ax. Then, it will be easier for you to chop down the tree. The problem is that we are still focusing on rather being efficient.
So, is there anything we can do to be more effective? Remember, being effective is about doing the right things. In case of chopping down the tree, one way is to replace the ax with a chainsaw. Doing so would significantly decrease the time and effort necessary for chopping down the tree. In other words, chainsaw is one way to get more done. Smart way to procrastinate? Well, you can spend couple minutes cleaning up the chainsaw, refueling it and reading the manual to avoid any potential situations resulting in harm you.
Another idea to get more done in less time – make a fire – is to bring some charcoal with you. This will help you bypass the need to chop down the tree completely. Smart way to procrastinate may be, again, learning how to manipulate with the charcoal and use it safely. It can also be spending more time in the store choosing the right type of charcoal. Remember, it is about being effective – doing the right things, or choosing the right tools. If you want to get things on another level, you can also consider using a portable grill or burners with either charcoal or a tank of propane.
Smart Ways to Procrastinate and Get More Done at Work
Until now, we were mostly discussing how to get more done in daily life or more relaxing activities. Well, some people may not consider woodcutting as something relaxing. However, this is not the main purpose or goal of this article. It is also always easier to find some smart way to procrastinate in activities not related to work. For this reason, we will switch to work environment.
Switch Between Work and Projects
The number one smart way to procrastinate and still get more done is switching between projects. There is, I think, not a better way how to “hack” your productivity using conscious procrastination than this one. All you need is to have at least two projects in progress in the same time. The thing is that when we usually get bored or we are not able to think clearly about the project we are working on, we often switch to some time waster. The most common examples of these activities are probably checking email and social media. Email was my way to “escape” and procrastinate.
Unfortunately, this was definitely not a way to get more done. It was also not a smart way to procrastinate. It was just a waste of time. On the other hand, let’s now imagine you have two or more projects running. So, instead of switch to your mailbox or social media feed that’s probably not helping neither you nor your business or work, you switch to different project. Are you procrastinating? Yes you are procrastinating from the perspective of your first project. However, this is a smart way to procrastinate because you are still working and making progress elsewhere.
To be honest, this smart way to procrastinate and still get more done in work is not my idea. I first heard about this idea from designer Tobias van Schneider. I immediately fell in love with idea and decided to make this article to share the message further and also to discuss procrastination. Although this is a great method to boost your productivity through procrastination, it has some downsides. First, you still have to stick to your deadlines. If one projects is getting too close to the deadline and there is still a lot of work, switching may not be an option.
Second, side project can have many benefits for both, your work and career. Regardless to that, you may not have enough time for them or you may not be able to handle multiple projects well. In these cases, following this approach could do you more harm than good. If you are not sure whether it will work for you, try it on something small. Pick a project that can potentially fail without any more serious consequences. Also, never let your side or client projects overwhelm you. Remember, your goal is to leverage procrastination, not to paralyze yourself.
The last thing related to having couple projects so you can switch between them. Good idea is to keep these projects diversified. The more similar your projects will be, the less you will be interested in switching between them. For example, if you will need to get out from front-end development for a moment, having two projects focused on this area will not be much helpful. On the other hand, if your second project is about music composition, design, photography or writing, the situation is completely different. Now, you will give your brain more distinct stimuli. As a result, you will enjoy your “procrastination” much more.
When Ideas Have Sex
How do you think the process of coming up with innovative ideas looks like? Many of us think about this process as something full of hard work in solitude. We like to think about innovators as genius people working tirelessly in their garages for months or years. Then, in one moment, the proverbial light bulb lights up and the solution is crispy clear. To support this idea, we like to remind ourselves about Thomas Alva Edison and his quote: “There is no substitute for hard work.”
To strengthen this idea of solitary innovator even more, there is another quote by Edison: “The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst has been done in turmoil.” First, I have nothing against Edison, although I prefer Tesla. Second, I love the image of innovator working in his garage or laboratory only to create something that will change the world. That’s also why the book Innovators by Walter Isaacson was hard pill to swallow in the beginning. By the way, if you are into tech and innovation, I highly recommend this book.
Next, I heard about Steven Johnson and his book Where good ideas come from. Johnson mentioned couple interesting thoughts for generating innovative ideas. Some of these thoughts were write everything down, keeping your folders messy, embracing serendipity, making generative mistakes, trying multiple hobbies (side projects?) and visiting coffeehouses. Yes, you read it right. The main idea here is to give your brain as many stimuli and cultivate hunches.
So, can sitting in coffeehouse be another smart way to procrastinate? Can you tell your boss you will get more done if you will work in Starbucks? Although it can look ridiculous, the answer may be yes. Here is the thing. I still believe that work in solitude is necessary to generate innovative ideas and get the job done. However, there is also something called idea incubation. You have to let your unconscious work on the problem. This is what I mean by idea incubation. You describe the problem, gather the knowledge and attack it head-on.
I know that this doesn’t look like a smart way to procrastinate, but hold on. Let’s call this phase of trying to solve the problem with brute force struggle. The goal is to work really hard. If you feel frustration, stress, anxiety or tension, that’s okay. You should feel that way. This is the time when your consciousness is working on the problem. The next phase is called release. Your goal here is to take your mind off the problem. This is the time you can go to Starbucks to get your coffee, go for a walk, read something or whatever you want. Just think about something else.
What you are doing now is finding some smart way to procrastinate. Finding something to focus on instead of your work. Paradoxically, following this approach will still mean you will get more done even if you are sipping coffee or tea in your favorite coffeehouse. How? Remember, there are two modes of thinking or parts of brain. First is conscious. It is often the struggle phase when you are consciously dealing with some problem. Second one is unconscious. This is when you are not consciously thinking about the problem, but your mind is still working on it in the background.
The key thing is that it is often the unconscious mode of thinking that will help you generate solutions for your problems. You probably heard about people having breakthrough in the shower or on a walk. Well, it is during this time when your ideas have sex. It is during this time when your brain is trying various combinations of thoughts and concepts to solve your problem. So, although it looks like you are doing nothing and wasting your time (and client’s money), the opposite is true. Your brain is working in solitude (innovator in garage).
There you have it! Another smart way to procrastinate and still get more done. So, instead of hitting your head against the wall and trying to break it, try this slightly different approach. First, take your to-do list and choose the task you are struggling with. Second, gather information and knowledge you need. Third, go all-in. Remember, this is the struggle phase, so stress and discomfort is nothing to be avoided. Forth, after some time, just let it go. Give yourself the permission to procrastinate. Remember, this is a smart way to procrastinate. Then, repeat the process until you will be able to come up with solution.
Quick note: Watching television is not the best way to let your brain relax. EEG studies have found that the higher-functioning levels of the brain, go offline when you watch TV. However, the visual cortex is still highly stimulated. In other words, when you watch TV your brain is in some type of limbo state of rest. Neurons inside your brain are still firing, but your mind is actually not engaged. This means that although your brain is still taking in a lot of information, it is not processing it. Conclusion? Your brain is neither fully relaxed nor fully working. It is somewhere in the middle.
To sum up the previous paragraph, watching TV is not a smart way to procrastinate. Not only you will not get more done, you will waste your time and also put your brain on some kind of a zombie mode. So, if you want to let your brain relax and let your conscious work on the problem, active rest like walking, exercise, meditation and hanging out with people will serve you much better.
Hack Your Environment for Productivity
Let’s now return to the first smart way to procrastinate – switching between projects – and optimize it. By optimizing I mean preparing, or hacking, your environment to minimize the possibility of you getting off the track. As we discussed in 7 Soft Skills Every Freelance Web Designer Must Have Pt7 article, willpower is finite resource. Relying on it also costs you a lot of energy. So, it is on our own interest to customize our environment in a way we can safe our willpower and energy on more important issues and decisions.
The best way to hack your environment, to prime yourself for smart way to procrastinate of your choice, is by creating routines and habits and using automation as much as you can. My first tip is to cancel your TV. Along with social media, this is one of the biggest time wasters. What’s more, as studies showed, TV doesn’t even help your brain relax. Conclusion? It’s garbage that’s only draining your bank account. Next tip is to use some productivity technique such as Pomodoro to get more done by working in short sprints interlaced with breaks.
During these sprints of deep work make sure to either block social media or disable Internet completely. This will force you to stay on track even if your willpower will not be sufficient. The last tip is to use some kind of automation that will run specific programs or apps when you turn on your computer. This is useful when you don’t want to rely on your willpower and just jump right into work as the first thing in the morning. For example, you can create a task that will start Sublime Text (or any other text editor).
Then, without wasting any time on thinking what to do, you can start coding and get into flow. Here is the thing, when the editor is already open, you are one step closer to working on what’s on your to do list. If you are a designer, you can do the same thing with your graphic editor. You turn on your computer and your editor will automatically start as well. However, I would suggest to never use this automation on your browser. The reason is simple. For many of us, browser is the first step that will get to websites in the group of time wasters we are trying to avoid.
Okay, these tips are quite worn out. Anyone who read at least one article on productivity knows about them. You will find more tools on increasing your productivity in Productivity 2.0 – Become a productivity machine article. Now, how you can apply some smart way to procrastinate on your environment? If you are using desktop icons, you can for example place all your projects on your desktop and remove everything else. This will remove many obstacles, such as searching through directories to find a project you can switch to, and put all your options right under your nose.
If you are using some kind of keystroke launcher such as Launchy, to create shortcuts that will allow you to start specific programs or apps using specific keyword. The ultimate and a bit extreme “hack” to implement project switch as a smart way to procrastinate is removing all the apps and software not necessary for your work. This can force you to get more done even if you don’t want to. How? It is one thing to wait couple seconds until the app starts. Having to install the app first and then waiting until the app starts is something completely different. This works with games.
For some people (rather many), this may sound too extreme. In that case, possible solution is to have two devices, one for work and for entertainment. It is similar to having a home office or specific place when you are a freelancer. The downside is that this option is more expensive. You can also use some blocking software to block specific websites and apps in specific times. This is cheaper and doesn’t require uninstalling anything.
Take a Sabbatical
Have you ever thought about taking a time away from your work? Let’s make it clear that we are not talking about taking a vacation. This is something different. It is called taking a sabbatical and the practice is to schedule specific number of days, weeks or even months for taking a prolonged break. This concept is probably most known in creative industries such as design, advertising, etc. The idea behind this concept is to give yourself some time to recharge your “creative juices”. It can also help you avoid burnout. One of the most famous people in design taking sabbaticals on a regular basis is Stefan Sagmeister. By the way, there is an interview with Stefan on NTMY podcast.
How can you use sabbatical as a smart way to procrastinate? First, think about what you really want to do, and why. You have to know why are you taking the sabbatical. Otherwise, you can end up on a place you don’t like looking for ways to distract yourself from thinking about work. Remember, the goal of sabbatical is not to take you physically from work while your mind is still occupied with thoughts about it. Sabbatical is here to give you a chance to relax.
Although sabbatical may look like a waste of time, many people will confirm that sabbatical done right can be a huge productivity booster. The key thing is that rested brain works much better. This is also why working more hours may not necessarily help you get more done. This is also the reason I use pomodoro while working. Another benefit of taking a sabbatical is exposing yourself to different cultures and places. This will provide your brain with new and interesting stimuli that can help you generate fresh ideas.
Exposing yourself to different environments can also help you see various things with fresh eyes. In this way, sabbatical can be quite smart way to procrastinate. Just think about how many businesses were created because of what its founder experienced. Three examples are TOMS, Grameen bank and charity: water. Well, these businesses were not result of sabbatical, but direct exposition to new environment. This is something sabbatical can do for you as well. Interested in learning more about sabbatical? Take a look at book by Dan Clements called Escape 101.
Closing Thoughts on Smart Way to Procrastinate
There is one important thing you should think about. Are the people uploading motivational videos, images and other things also walking the walk or putting the money where their mouth is? Meaning, are these people really doing what are they talking about or are they just faking it? When someone is bragging about eighty-hour workweek, what gives you the confidence that person is telling the truth? Consider this as something to think about the next time you will indulge in watching YouTube videos of so-called “hustlers”.
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