Your Guide To Planned Procrastination
How To Make The Most Of Procrastination Habits
When I was in college, I used to write my papers a few hours before they were due. Bleary-eyed and with a carafe of coffee fueling me, I’d type with ferocious fingers as the clock ticked down and the sun began to rise. I loved these all-nighters. I thrived in the final hours leading up to deadlines. So much so that I began to plan for them.
Maybe I knew I’d end up working on an editorial team where we live by the rules of looming deadlines. Or, perhaps I just discovered that I’m most productive when under pressure. I often create my best work when propelled by urgency; set dates and times offer a sense of structure and accountability. When I have minimal hours to work with, I’m generally much more efficient.
Despite this, I’ve often felt ashamed about my working style. Maybe it’s the countless internet articles offering 10 fail-proof steps for curing procrastination. With numerous theories as to what causes procrastination (Is it fear? Is it how our brains work? Is it perfectionism?), there’s an ongoing debate about whether it’s a healthy working style.
Some of these proposed theories make us procrastinators feel as if something is wrong with us. The way the assumption goes, procrastinating people are lazy, unmotivated, and indecisive. The real ‘winners’ get sh*t done, and they get it done ahead of schedule, right? I’m generalizing here, but I have noticed that we tend to celebrate people for how quickly they complete tasks (and how many tasks at that).
But what if I told you that procrastinating people can get things done too? And sometimes we’re just as, if not more, efficient than the early birds. The trick is learning to make procrastination work in your favor—because there is a difference between procrastinating because you failed to plan and planning to procrastinate.
While most procrastinators start in the first camp, it’s possible to hack what’s been touted as a flaw, alleviate anxiety, and use crunch-time windows to our advantage.
Curious to give it a try? Here’s how I practice thoughtful and planned procrastination.
1. Never Procrastinate On Accident
One Standford philosophy professor calls it “structured procrastination,” and Dr. Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist, “says procrastination itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s how you approach it that determines whether it becomes a burden or a tool,” according to HuffPost.
When I procrastinate, I never do so on accident. Accidental procrastination can lead to stress and anxiety, especially if you have others counting on you.
For a non-work-related example: I am the grocery shopper in our house, and there have been times I’ve put it off until Sunday evening (because weekends should be fun). But then it’s 7 pm and I find myself scrambling to meal plan and shop so my partner can cook dinner. It causes unnecessary stress for both of us, and procrastination in these instances never proves fruitful (literally, because we have no fruit).
Instead, I am thoughtful in planning my procrastination—specific to projects and certain windows. It’s an active activity, and something I take seriously.
My best practice is to chunk out the hours before a deadline, ensuring I’ve completed all other urgent tasks and knowing approximately how long a certain task will take. With writing, I give myself a few hours (but only a few) before my first draft deadline to write the piece. The allotted time is long enough to structure my thoughts, write the essay, and do a self-edit. It’s also short enough that I don’t do the inevitable writing dance (writers, you know what I’m talking about), which looks like checking off every other task on my to-do list and even creating a few imaginary ones to avoid facing the blank page.
Whether you’re procrastinating on writing, doing your homework, or completing a work project, try to be thoughtful about the days and hours leading up to your deadline. Complete necessary tasks before then so that you’re not stuck juggling multiple items within a short time frame. Consider looping your boss or coworkers in so that they are aware you’ll be offline and unavailable for a set amount of time.
Also—and this is key—I would never write a final draft last-minute. The key to planned procrastination is tricking yourself into feeling urgency while also ensuring you have time and space for revisions and checking over your work (writing, homework, or otherwise).
2. Work Distraction-Free
Because I’m only giving myself a few hours to work, it’s essential to remove distractions. This means turning off my phone and email notifications, and sometimes I’ll even turn off my internet if I find myself returning to the web too frequently. Ridding myself of these distractions keeps me focused on the task at hand.
I also treat procrastination like a ritual. Before sitting down to write, I fill up my water, make coffee, light a candle, and get comfortable.
3. Leave Room For Edits
I’ve noted this already, but it deserves its own point: Planned procrastination is thoughtfully walking the line between allowing yourself too much time and not enough time. With writing, I always take into account that I have a few rounds of revisions ahead of me. This takes some of the pressure off and allows room for mistakes.
Whatever the project you’re working on, leave yourself space for edits and revisions. Your first pass at a project will likely not be your best work, so allocate enough time to revisit it later before final submission.
4. Be Conscious About Who Is Affected By Your Procrastination
Planned procrastination won’t work for everyone, specifically when projects are high-stakes, or when others are waiting on your work. Be thoughtful in considering your team and whether your procrastination will negatively impact your company.
The trick is to weigh the cost. Procrastinating works really well in my industry and specific role. Working with a small editorial team offers me more flexibility on deadlines. But this may not always be the case.
Sometimes we have to adapt to different workflows depending on specific projects or our environment. When I’ve found myself in these predicaments, it helps to create ‘fake deadlines’ (or self-imposed deadlines). This mind trick offers me the same amount of pressure without compromising my team. I will also ask my coworkers to impose a deadline for me—an easy ask in the writing world. Circling back to grocery shopping: It’s helpful when my partner tells me what time he wants to cook dinner (and how much time he will need) so I know the absolute latest time I can leave for the store.
5. Reevaluate As Necessary
This leads me to my final point, and that is to reevaluate your working habits as necessary. If I realize that my procrastination is harming my work or causing added stress (in my own life or for those around me), it may be time to consider different tactics for completing projects on time.
While I will forever love the adrenaline and focus I get when practicing planned procrastination, it doesn’t work for every project. Plus, when I complete tasks ahead of schedule, I’m often left feeling proud of myself—it is fun to be the early bird from time to time!
6. Celebrate What You Get Done In The Meantime
One final point: Remember that (often) you’re still getting important work done while procrastinating. Maybe you’re with friends, listening to music, or catching up on sleep. Or perhaps you’re *finally* hanging up your laundry while avoiding that paper.
But the moments leading up to procrastination can be important and even necessary to the task ahead, especially when they fuel inspiration or allow us to think through critical problems. I like to think these moments are preparing me for the big moment, when I actually sit down to work.
I’ll get the work done, and so will you—it just may take us a bit longer to get started. Happy procrastinating x
Kayti Christian (she/her) is an Editor at The Good Trade. She has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside, a newsletter for enneagram 4s and other sensitive-identifying people. Outside of writing, she loves hiking, reading memoir, and the Oxford comma.