5 Steps to Efficient (Stanford-approved!) Procrastination

Procrastination is usually considered a bad trait, but it is one that many people share. Instead of telling people (and himself) to stop procrastinating, one philosophy professor has figured out a way to make procrastination into a strategy for completing tasks. This article outlines the process to help you become an efficient procrastinator.

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Procrastination With Purpose

Is it possible to be a productive procrastinator? John R. Perry is a professor emeritus at Stanford, an active professor of philosophy at the University of California at Riverside and the winner of the 2011 Ig Nobel Prize in Literature. The Ig Nobel Prizes are meant to honor scientific research that 'makes people laugh and then think.' And that certainly is the case with Mr. Perry's 1996 essay 'How to Procrastinate and Still Get Things Done,' for which he was honored.

The essay examines what Mr. Perry calls 'structured procrastination' and asserts not only that procrastinating doesn't mean doing nothing, but that also one of the most common ways procrastinators avoid doing something is by doing something else. So if you are a procrastinator, here are five steps to efficient procrastination that you can use to get things done while still avoiding those tasks on the top of your list!

1. Always Have Something to Do

If you are hoping that having fewer items on your to-do list may help you actually get something done, think again. According to Mr. Perry, if you only have a few tasks on your list, 'the only way to avoid doing them will be to do nothing,' which is the path to becoming a couch potato. Instead, keep your to-do list full with other things you need to do besides the one(s) you are avoiding.

2. Prioritize Your To-Do List

Now take that list and prioritize it. Mr. Perry says that the trick to doing this is to put items at the top of the list that seem to have clear deadlines and seem really important, but don't and aren't. Rest assured, you are likely to get several other things on the list done before you get to the top three.

3. Develop Momentum by Not Doing

Here is where you take the character flaw of procrastination and turn it into your vehicle for getting things done. For example, say you've got a daunting research paper at the top of your list that has got you riddled with guilt and anxiety, but you just can't seem to start. So, don't start; instead, go do something else on your list. Pay some bills, do the dishes, read industry journals or do whatever else is on your list that seems less important than the research project. Making small accomplishments can help you avoid that sense of failure that procrastination can bring and can get some momentum going, which may make that first chapter of research suddenly seem a little easier. Mr. Perry admits that one must have 'excellent self-deceptive skills' to accomplish this.

4. Give Up the Fantasy of Perfection

In a subsequent essay, 'Procrastination and Perfectionism,' Mr. Perry discusses how the fantasy of perfection feeds procrastination simply because many procrastinators are perfectionists and assume that it is difficult and time consuming to do things perfectly. So, rather than working hard on something perfectly today, procrastinators wait until there is no longer enough time to do it perfectly. Therefore, when you are facing your perfectionism and avoiding a project, ask yourself what the actual likelihood is that you will really do a perfect job on it, give yourself permission to do a less than perfect job and then just do it.

5. When All Else Fails, Paint Yourself into a Corner - But Don't Beat Yourself Up

The sad truth is that the anxiety of an approaching deadline and the feeling of cross-hairs focusing on the back of the neck are the strongest motivators for procrastinators. Sometimes, that is just how it is going to go. Try to remember this when you have painted yourself into a corner; remember all of the things you got done instead and forgive yourself for being a flawed human being.

Learn about some other ways to fight procrastination.

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