How To Skirt Resistance and Become a “Productive Procrastinator”
Photo courtesy of Hans Van Rijnberk.

How To Skirt Resistance and Become a “Productive Procrastinator”

Written by Emilie

Topics: Productivity

This is part of the Multi-Focus Maverick Series, a series about how to split up your time effectively so that you can focus on many things and still make progress on your goals.

***

I woke up this morning with one mission in mind: Today I’m working on my script.

I’m feeling pumped.

Ready.

Lets do this.

I sit down at my desk…

Suddenly, the last thing I want to do is work on my script.

In this moment, all of my other projects seem a million times more enticing. Writing my book? Blogging? Building that Portland Clue tournament website? Tweaking the design of my sidebar? Answering emails? (Yes, even answering emails sounds like a blast right now).

Has This Happened to You?

The instant you make the decision to work on a project, your body screams NO- Anything but! It doesn’t matter how much fun the project seemed yesterday (or even five minutes ago). Once it’s time to get started, the resistance monster stomps right down on top of you.

It happens instantly, like a reflex. “I’m going to work on THIS project!” you declare. BAM! Sorry buddy, any other project is fine. But THIS project? Nope, if you try to work on this project, I grant you PAIN. MASSIVE, MASSIVE PAIN.

Dealing with Resistance

Resistance never disappears. What you need to do is trick resistance into leaving you alone for a while- for just enough time to get your work done.

There are many ways to trick resistance. Sometimes brute force/plowing ahead in pain will get it to subside. Sometimes addressing a root fear behind the resistance solves the problem. Other times taking a break is the answer. Setting small goals and going nuts for five minutes is another option.

But for me, today, nothing is working.

Tricking Your Resistance by Using that Resistance

You’re a multipotentialite, right? This means that you probably have a bunch of projects on the go. It also means that, unlike the unfortunate specialists who are cursed with only one love, you have other options. Really good options. 

See, your version of procrastination isn’t (just) cleaning the apartment and watching 30 Rock DVDs. It’s also long term projects, new curiosities and various passion-fueled endeavors. Talk about a perk of being a scanner! There is some incredibly meaningful work you could be doing in the name of “procrastination”.

What if, instead of tricking resistance into leaving you alone to work on your “declared” project, you use your need to procrastinate as a way to make progress on something else?

The Beauty of Productive Procrastination

Can you guess what I’m doing now? Am I working on my script, like I had declared I would upon rising this morning? Nope. I’m writing a blog post- my “assigned task”, not for today, but for tomorrow.

And do you know why I’m able to write this post right now? It’s because writing this post is something I shouldn’t be doing. I’m being bad. I’m not meeting goal for the day. Bad Emilie!

Except that I am doing important work… I needed to write a post eventually anyway. And if I had simply waited till tomorrow to write this post like I had originally planned, I guarantee you that tomorrow I’d be completely unable to write it. Interesting, right? It’s always a million times easier to do the things you shouldn’t be doing.

If you can frame work in your mind as “procrastination”, it’s much easier to do.

Apply this Trick for Yourself

The next time you have many projects on the go (i.e. any given day) pick one of them and make your day all about that project. Set a deadline. Announce to someone that you’ll be working reeeeally hard on this particular project.

If you manage to work on that project, that’s awesome! You win.

But if you can’t… If the resistance hits and the work just isn’t happening, be naughty. “Procrastinate” by working on one of your other projects. Tell yourself that you really shouldn’t be doing this right now… It’s bad, oh so bad, what you’re doing…

***

Update: the day after I wrote this, I woke up and pumped out my script outline in about 40 minutes. And since this post (my original project for the day) was already written, I took the day off, hung out with my awesome aunt and then built a meetup site for my Clue league. I feel like a productivity superhero!

Have you ever used procrastination to make you more productive?

36 Comments

  1. Ethan says:

    Great article, Emilie! I find it’s always important to learn to acknowledge when I’m procrastinating. That’s usually the first step to breaking out of mindless internet surfing.

    • Emilie says:

      Thanks, Ethan. Yeah, some forms of procrastination are definitely more useful than others. Mindless internet surfing definitely has its place though. :)

  2. Morgan says:

    “Procrastinating by procrastinating”. I like it! And without even know it, I do that ALL the time.

    It’s like cleaning, I hate to clean the bathroom, so I’ll start by doing laundry or cleaning the kitchen, then by the time I’m done, I’m pumped to do some more cleaning so I say “eff it! I’ll just clean the bathroom!”

    Same concept with what you’re saying and it really works! I procrastinate by doing other projects all the time and it really gets me pumped for my other projects.

    Great stuff, Emilie!

    • Emilie says:

      Haha.. I had a roommate once who used to procrastinate by cleaning our apartment. I’d always know she had a paper due when I’d arrive home and find her scrubbing the insides of the fridge.

      Thanks for the comment, Morgan!

  3. Natalie says:

    One of my favourite posts so far! Brilliant :-)

  4. YOU’RE BLOWING MY MIND, EMILIE! Being productive as a form of procrastination? Get outta town! I think I have actually done this without realising it, back in my days as a staff journalist. As we all know, the office environment lends particularly well to procrastination, even a fun, metal-listening, beer-drinking office.

    This has helped put my day on track in so many ways.

  5. Juventud says:

    The reason we procrastinate is because of impatience. We get impatient and our mind tells us that there is something more important which needs to be done. Here is when I trick my mind. I tell my mind, ‘no buddy i’ve got no other thing to do! And i should be doing this.’ This works for me :)

    • Emilie says:

      Interesting view. I think for me, my procrastination is linked more to fear than impatience. It’s much scarier for me to work on a big important project than it is to procrastinate.

      Thanks for sharing, Juventud. :)

  6. Dyamond says:

    Ah I love this! Such a great tip. I am so guilty of doing this. I love the idea of being “bad” and doing another project. Thanks!

  7. Rhina says:

    Love it, Emilie! I’m procrastinating on my work by reading and commenting. It’s a task I’m completing nonetheless. I read about the Renaissance soul, and it exactly wasn’t all relevant to me. I discovered your site, and it’s blowing my mind. Thanks for making the way for the rest of us.

  8. Cara Stein says:

    This is one of my favorite techniques. I call it procrastination optimization. Now everyone knows why I had such a clean toilet in grad school! ;)

    • Emilie says:

      Haha nice! Clean toilets are always a plus. I bet no one questioned that ‘quirk’ of yours… lol. And also see my reply to Morgan above, about my old roommate. :)

      Good trait to have. Heh.

  9. Shanna Mann says:

    Ha! I do this all the time— but you perfectly articulate why it works so well— because it feels so good to be so bad!

  10. Lex Mosgrove says:

    That intro sounds too familiar for comfort. o.O

    Great ideas there – as usual – and very well timed, seeing how I intended to write my book and keep finding myself working on the comic instead. :)

    • Emilie says:

      Tee hee.. totally. I keep going back and forth between my book and my script. But that works. :)

      Nice to hear from you Lex. Glad to hear the comic’s coming along.

  11. Jackie says:

    I always end up doing something other than my declaration for the day.
    Must be the rebel in me…I don’t even like being told by myself what to do!

    I literally did laugh out loud, coz I soooo identify ;)

    • Emilie says:

      I know, right? That’s the big problem with to do lists and daily goals. Often just setting goals, makes it that much harder to do them.

      But yeah, using that knowledge to trick resistance is definitely the way to go. :)

  12. JR Tschopp says:

    Wow, I’ve been doing this for years without realizing it (this week, I’ve been working on my novel like a mad man instead of reading submissions for the anthology I edit, or finishing the artwork I was commissioned to draw. Oops). Now that you’ve made me aware of it, I think I can use this power for good instead of… well, not evil, but “less good” maybe?

  13. Franis Engel says:

    “Try Not! Do, or Do NOT – there is no try” – I will always remember the cheer that went up in the theater the first time I heard that Yoda line…

    Yeah, I’ve been productively procrastinating since 1978. ;o) My other strategy is to tell myself I’m not doing to do this thing… I’m just “getting ready” in case I want to do it later! Then the act of preparing sucks me in.

    Have you heard of Mark Forster’s Autofocus list making routine? It feeds off the multi-talent desire to want to “keep my options open.”

    • Emilie says:

      Haha more Star Wars…

      I love your “getting ready” tip. I use the “go crazy for 5 minutes only” approach sometimes, but yours sounds even better.

      I haven’t heard of Mark Forster. Thanks for the tip though, I’ll check him out.

  14. I absolutely loved this post. The resistance is always out to sabatoge our plans. This is something more bloggers/creatives need to here. Thanks!

  15. Pridge says:

    ohhhh I think you just gave me hope!!! Actually as I read this I thought, “Now why didn’t I think of that before?” Thanks!!

  16. Bartjan says:

    Haha that’s awesome Emilie,

    Thanks for this wonderful trick :)

    [The question below got a bit long and only read it if you have time, since it might be slightly off-topic for you.]

    A question that arises in my case – it’s a really basic one but IMO an important one, is how to keep track of all your projects/priorities. I notice that it makes a huge difference for me what kind of media I use for that. Right now it’s two mini whiteboards (about Letter size) for my top 2 priorities, and a ‘quadrant 2′ planning scheme for all my lesser important stuff.

    I’m still missing a good thing to keep track of all my backburner stuff, and when I go GTD style on that stuff it gets so crowded and overwhelming that I just never open that list again :)

    The key for me seems to be to keep it simple enough so that it doesn’t become overwhelming (my little whiteboards to a GREAT job at that, and they’re higly recommended), but I still need something to keep track of the bigger picture.

    Feel free to reply if you have any opinion or tips on it!

    All the best from Holland and keep on rocking your multipotential life! :)

    Bartjan

  17. Kaylee says:

    Awesome! I’m gonna try this tomorrow morning, when I’ll undoubtedly whine about writing a blog post..

  18. Willi M says:

    Woot! Another great blog about using procrastination to be productive. Nice job. In my blog, I talked about how “delaying” has always been a part of time management. Well, hello! That’s the definition of procrastination! It should never be considered a dirty word. Like ever. :-)

  19. Rebekka. says:

    Hi Emilie,

    first: great website [or person? ;)], I’m so glad having stumbled across this one!!

    I know the ‘art of procrastination’ you describe above as ‘structured procrastination’, and I came across years ago on this website http://www.structuredprocrastination.com – now I am even wearing a shirt out of their spreadshirt-shop ;)!

    I will follow you. Regards from Germany!

  20. Ray Lardie says:

    I use this trick all the time! It’s one of the only reasons I didn’t fall apart during undergrad– can’t write that paper right now? Procrastinate by doing Japanese homework. Dread studying kanji for the quiz? Do thesis research. Rinse and repeat.

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