Over at Fast Company, Jane Porter, has written that some of the things we do when we procrastinate are worse than others. “Not all procrastination distractions are created equal.”
When we find ourselves procrastinating, one thing we do (it’ll probably seem familiar to you) is we try to do something else that needs to get done but which is somehow easier to not procrastinate about. Rarely do procrastinators actually do nothing at all. They do something they know they shouldn’t be doing because it’s keeping them from doing the thing they know they should indeed be doing. There is a lot of guilt associated with procrastination.
But there needn’t be, says John Perry, author of The Art of Procrastination and a professor of Philosophy at Stanford. That tendency to do something easier can be leveraged to make you more productive in general.
Perry writes, “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.”
Perry calls this “structured procrastination.” We don’t feel like working on this one important thing which we know needs to get done, so we do something else that we rationalize as itself being somewhat productive to do. Perry thinks procrastinating a super important thing by doing something important but not super important, can be a strategy for success and high productivity in your work life.
But Tim Pychyl, Psychology professor at Carleton, and author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, would seem to disagree. He says that Perry’s kind of so-called “structured procrastination” is not rational, it’s a rationalization involving lots of self-deception. Pychyl thinks there are ways to defeat the habit of procrastination and actually get that super important task started and done.
After all, if that one super important thing which is hard to do is actually super important, then you are choosing to do something less valuable when you follow Perry’s advice of structured procrastination. If there were no way to get ourselves to do that one super important thing then maybe it’d be rational to adopt Perry’s tactics.
But Pychyl knows what causes procrastination and he has figured out causal interventions that can stop it from happening. (Also, if Perry were right, then the only way we could ever get something super important done would be if something super duper important came along that we didn’t feel like doing, so we could procrastinate on it by doing the merely super important task. But notice, now we’ll never get the super duper important thing done.)