Productive Procrastination: How to Avoid Falling Into the Trap

written by Dan Silvestre
Procrastination, Productivity

productive procrastination

Productive procrastination sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?

Can you both procrastinate AND be productive? 

That sounds like heaven for many of us. 

Now, what is productive procrastination?

Is it even a good thing?

Productive procrastination is when you’re busy, yet you’re still procrastinating on your most important tasks. 

For example:

You work 8 -10h workdays, you’re always busy, and you feel that you’re productive.

But you’re not as productive as you think.  

Is your big project done? Is it even moving in any direction? 

If the answer is “not exactly”, you’re presumably a victim of productive procrastination. 

By keeping yourself busy with a lot of to-do’s, you distract yourself from doing the work. The work that’s important and impactful still remains untouched. 

Productive procrastination is allegedly the solution to the common approach to procrastination. 

It’s a way of using it to your advantage. 

Let me explain.

Is Productive Procrastination Good or Bad?

You’ll find various opinions about productive procrastination. 

Some people claim that you can use productive procrastination to your advantage. We’ll take a look at some tips to do it below. 

Others say that it’s a silent killer of all our goals and ambitions. 

Let’s see where we are standing with both approaches. 

Productive Procrastination – Pros

The positive side of productive procrastination boils down to its definition.

Productive procrastination is when you’re efficient and accomplish everything (except for the most important things).

The definition says that you’re efficient with productive procrastination.  

Due to this belief system, you do things thanks to your procrastination

For example:

When having a hard project to crack, you may find yourself doing:

  • laundry
  • the dishes
  • washing your car
  • organizing files on the computer
  • cleaning the bathroom
  • washing the dog
  • cooking
  • cooking 
  • pairing all your socks together
  • looking up driving directions for holiday trip 5 months away

You actually worked and achieved something. 

Does it look productive to you?

Before you answer, let me give you another example.

Let’s say that you’re a writer.

What could you do that would be productive procrastination?

  • Going to writer’s conferences
  • Reading about writing
  • Spending time thinking about the title and cover of your book
  • Changing locations to find inspiration

The point is, while you’re doing this you’re neglecting the most important task: writing.

Are you being productive? Yes.

Are you a productive writer? Not really.

Followers of this method believe that you can be a massive procrastinator and still get a tone of work done

In fact, procrastinating doesn’t have to mean “doing nothing”. You can still do low-level, unimportant stuff

Productive procrastinators are great workers. They are able to do a lot of work, provided it is not the one they should be doing at the moment.

Productive procrastination means focusing on those worthwhile but not-so-crucial things to do.

Here are some examples of productive procrastination.

#1 Clean

Every time you don’t want to get started on a work project – clean 

Don’t listen to a podcast or turn on the radio. 

Just clean. 

Make it as boring as possible, so that your mind wanders.

This does two things:

  1. It delays actually working on your project
  2. It gives you time to think

The power of boredom: doing a mundane activity for a while can prompt creativity. 

If you work from home, there is always something to clean. In an office – organize your desk or head to the break room, and do everyone’s dishes.

Only you will know that you did it to avoid work for a while.

#2 Tackle Simple Tasks

Some tasks don’t need your full attention.

They are great for productive procrastination. 

The best tasks to use for this exercise: 

  • Urgent tasks that need to get done
  • Tasks that don’t need a lot of focus- cleaning your inbox, reading emails, etc
  • Something different enough from your main project so that it feels like a break

The idea is to find things that need to get done but aren’t overwhelming or exhausting. 

Dive into them when you don’t feel like getting started on a big project.

#3 Plan the Rest of Your Day

Fiddling with your calendar isn’t fun unless there’s something else you should be doing. 

Time blocking is a great way to procrastinate in a productive way. 

Organizing your time becomes the most entertaining thing in the world. 

You can take a few moments to plan your day if you don’t feel like starting that big project

It will keep you on track for the rest of the day.

You avoid working for a while and you end up with a plan for your day. 

The productive procrastination technique focuses on a specific worldview. 

If you can’t make it great, at least make it. 

This approach proposes not to view productivity as an all-or-nothing thing. It doesn’t perceive procrastination as the opposite of productivity. 

Even if you’re not working on the task you set out to do, you’re still making progress on eliminating slices of your productivity pie.

According to this approach, you’re still making progress on getting your life in order.

Productive Procrastination – Cons

You fall into the trap of productive procrastination every day without being aware of it.

Productive procrastination sneaks up on you. 

Before you know it, you are working on tasks that distract you from what you should be doing

You’re busy and you’re getting a lot of tasks done. You feel good about yourself. 

In reality, you’re actually killing your productivity levels.

With productive procrastination, you sabotage your productivity and success. 

You’re working hard and being busy throughout the day, but you don’t get the desired results.

It’s frustrating. 

There are a few things you should know if you are close to falling into the trap:

  • Don’t use busyness to protect yourself from doing the things that you should. This way you fail to reach your dreams
  • Hard work doesn’t equal success. It can be its component if you work hard on the right tasks and activities. Think about it. If hard work equaled success, all construction workers would be millionaires

What’s the Trap About?

When you procrastinate in the normal way, you almost always realize it. 

You hardly ever realize when you fall into the trap of productive procrastination.   

Think about those days when you:

  •  answer a lot of emails, 
  • engage on social media, 
  • publish posts on Instagram, 
  • and do other random to-do’s

You feel very productive, don’t you?

Your brain rewards you for this behavior. It produces dopamine when you’re working on a lot of different tasks. This, in turn, stimulates the repetition of this behavior. 

But let me tell you something:

It’s misleading.

Productive procrastination is unproductive in the long run. 

You should avoid getting into its trap and all costs

Tips to Avoid Falling for Productive Procrastination

productive procrastination tips

To avoid productive procrastination, have in mind these two rules.

#1 Learn to Identify Your Most Important Activities

On a piece of paper, write down the most important goals that you want to achieve. On another piece write down all tasks & activities that you perform. 

What 1–5 tasks or activities lead to the most meaningful progress towards these goals? 

What tasks are meaningful when it comes to moving the needle for your business?

Those tasks are your most valuable tasks, and that’s where you should spend the majority of your time and effort. 

If you have more than 5 tasks that you think are important, take a few minutes to identify your top 5.

Keep an eye on yourself. Measure the importance of the tasks you perform daily. 

Remember that it will further influence your future success. 

If you work on any other task before spending time on your identified top, you’re falling into the trap.

#2 Tackle Your Most Important Activities First Thing in the Day

Don’t work on anything else before you finish your work on your most important activity. 

Most people work on low to mid-value tasks first because it’s easier.

As the day progresses, more to-do’s pile up, and the most important tasks land on the ‘tomorrow’ list. 

And tomorrow…

We all know what happens tomorrow (or what doesn’t happen). 

As they go by during the day, our mental resources, like willpower and our ability to focus diminish. 

We become more likely to skip those 1–5 most important tasks that we postponed for later at first. 

Work on them for the first hours of your workday. 

Only after should you switch to the low or mid-value tasks.

Be mindful of how much time and energy mid-value tasks take away from you.

Structured Procrastination

Sometimes people associate productive procrastination with structured procrastination. 

It’s not the same thing though. 

What is “structured procrastination” by John Perry, an emeritus philosophy professor at Stanford? Let’s see his article written back in 1995:

“All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important”

Turns out:

If all the procrastinators had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him to do it.”

That seems like an accurate observation. 

“The procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important. Structured procrastination means shaping the structure of the tasks one has to do in a way that exploits this fact. The list of tasks one has in mind will be ordered by importance. Tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top. The trick is to pick the right sorts of projects for the top of the list”. 

It seems pretty complicated to tackle this system, but not undoable. 


Many of us assume that we have to work 50 to 60-hour workweeks to become successful. 

But we’ve tackled productive procrastination, so we know at least one thing:

Most of these hours aren’t even productive.

Don’t focus on the number of hours. Concentrate on the value you create.

Keep in mind that being busy is not the same as being productive.

Productive procrastinators tend to work hard without first analyzing the value of the task.

Being busy is all about doing as much as possible for as long as possible.

Being productive means that you actually tackle your priorities in an efficient manner.

It doesn’t matter how hard you work if you work on the wrong things. 

But just because a task or to-do holds any value, it doesn’t mean you should actually spend your time or energy on it.

Identify your 1–5 most valuable tasks and protect your time in the mornings to work on these tasks. 

Remember, change only happens when you execute on your knowledge.

Thanks for reading!

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