Productive Procrastination

Clive Thompson, author of Coders, has a strikingly-relatable piece called “How To Practice ‘Productive Procrastination’”.

His advice is: “Can’t face work? Then cultivate some side projects — and channel your work-avoidance into fun opportunities to learn” and once you’re done, you’ll 1) have something productive to show for it, and 2) be much more fit, rested, and ready to tackle that project at work.

In other words: rather than fight your penchant for procrastination, work with it. It’s a judo move: don’t fight your enemy, use its momentum against it for your benefit.

Magically, I’ve learned a whole bunch of skills that had always avoided me because I wasn’t motivated to learn them — because I found a way to motivate myself. That’s like a full-semester programming course finished in three weeks while skill-building and distracting me just enough from real work to make my real work more productive.

It me.

Not to brag — because I am most definitely not — but I’ve had people ask me, “How are you so productive?”

First let me tell you something: I don’t feel productive. Quite the opposite: I feel like a procrastinator.

However, I will say this about me: I do a pretty good job of channeling my procrastination into adjacent creative tasks which, in the end, influence, shape, and improve the chunks of work I do complete. And that looks like productivity from the outside. But trust me, from the inside, it usually just feels like avoidance and procrastination. But I’ve learned to accept that’s the cost of doing the kind of work I feel good at, so I let it be what it is.

Clive gives a good example of his own: coding. He’s a journalist, so coding isn’t his day job. But it helps him do his day job:

I’ll set myself the goal of building some fun, weird little app. Often this will require me to figure out a new library of software or web-design technique I’ve never tried before. The particularly nice thing about coding is that it offers many little “wins”: I get a function working, I figure out a piece of design. And very often, after experiencing this little fist-pumping moment of success I’m willing to finally pivot back to my day job, journalism. Along the way, I’m rezzing up my coding skills.

So you see? No need to get down on yourself for having a buzzing, creative mind. Embrace it and work with it.

[this approach is] very humane. It assumes that a certain amount of our procrastination — or, hell, maybe all of our procrastination — is innate, and possibly even unavoidable.

Learn to go with the flow of your motivation — fool yourself into being motivated by productively flipping between tasks to prevent fatigue from actively focusing too long on a single problem.