Episode 34 Productive Procrastination

March 20, 2023

Good morning.  Hello from New York City.

Today, I want to talk about something my friend Eric and I used to say to each other. We’ve always talked a lot about business, as we were both building our businesses at the same time. We talk about client development, operations, our employees and these types of matters. We also talk about using downtime to prepare for uptime. That’s a reference to the periods that are a little bit dry  – when you ain’t got much happening – and how to make the best use of that time instead of focusing on the fact that the phone isn’t ringing. The other one is productive procrastination.  For many years, I thought that one of us had coined the term  productive procrastination, but that’s not the case. It’s been around for quite some time.

What I mean by productive procrastination is this. It’s when you’re doing everything but that one thing that you really need to do and you can’t put off any longer yet you are. If you’re in school, it would be getting started on writing your essay or studying for an exam. Instead of your school work, maybe you’re doing the dishes or cleaning your room up or making a list of things to do, filing away your paperwork, whatever it is. Productive procrastination is when you are doing a lot of things except for the thing that you really feel like you should be doing. By using this term, I shifted away from feeling guilty all the time, or self-flagellating unnecessarily.  So it’s one thing to be lazy and do nothing and it’s quite another to use your energy to do something that may not be the thing, but that is still productive.

I want to differentiate between this and what I spoke about in another episode from James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits. There he talks about the difference between being in action and being in motion. That’s very different. That is about setting a goal that you want to work out and instead of getting yourself to the gym, you’re researching gyms and interviewing trainers and doing everything but actually getting started on your goal. That’s being in motion versus being in action. Another example of that would be if you’re a writer, spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about setting yourself up to write or planning the outline, versus actually doing what Eric would call the worky work of writing. Productive procrastination is very different.

So here are a couple of quotes about it. Productive procrastination is a process that some people use to help them manage their thoughts and emotions towards completing their pending tasks. Some people tend to view procrastination in a negative light, but when done properly, procrastination can actually be a healthy way of dealing with your to-do list. Amen to that.

Let’s talk about the etymology.  Etymologically procrastination is derived from the Latin verb procrastinare – to put off until tomorrow – but it’s more than just voluntarily. Procrastination is also derived from the ancient Greek word, akrasia something against our better judgment.

This reminds me of when I left Scout Talent and I was in the early days of finding my footing and figuring out what I wanted to do with this time and opportunity I had created for myself. I was conducting my life with an outdated operating system. So I would get motivated and make my list of things to do and then week after week I would find myself not getting things done on my list, and I felt terrible. I was feeling ashamed of myself. But then I got curious about it and I came to the realization that my list was full of things to do that actually weren’t important to me. I had to eventually face the fact that my interests and priorities were shifting, and that my old operating system was being entirely rewired. It was interesting. I started noticing that I was getting a lot of things done, and it wasn’t necessarily the things that I had written on my list. It was a process, but eventually I stopped writing these exhaustive lists. My lists became more what was important to me. I let go of a lot of the should. That’s the point. My to-do list had become a list of shoulds versus the want to and get to things. What do I want to do? What do I get to do? What do I want to remember versus what mustn’t I forget. It’s a different energy.

I’d just like to end by saying productive procrastination can be an incredibly great way to get things done on your list. I think there are a lot of clues in there about where your energy goes, where your attention goes, and what you actually really feel like doing. Anyway, I think the point is sometimes we just need to give ourselves a break, right? Like just do the thing that you feel like doing and take a good hard look at those to-do lists.

I don’t know who needs to hear that that’s all for now. Until next time, from my heart to yours.

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