Rajesh Kumar

Optimizing life, one day after the next

Constructive Procrastination Redux

16 Apr 2011

Also commonly referred to as effective procrastination, or even proactive procrastination, this is a topic that's been discussed at length by several productivity gurus across the internet. It's a highly strategic technique that I too have been using successfully for many years now. I just don't know how I haven't thought about blogging about it until today.

Constructive procrastination, simply put, is the art and science of strategically putting things off for the better. It is not, I repeat, not an excuse to be late or lazy. Constructive procrastination needs to be planned out ahead of time which is what makes it a strategy rather than a medicine.

There are many facets to constructive procrastination. I will explore just one here. The idea is that when you're faced with a boring Task A, all other tasks except Task A will seem a lot more interesting in comparison. So you constructively procrastinate Task A to achieve monumental progress on all other tasks that might have once seemed really boring in their own right.

It's not even a joke. Exam periods were always my most productive days back at Waterloo. Because I knew the most correct thing to be doing during exam periods was to study, I would do everything but study. 15-day chunks every school semester for 8 semesters for a grand total of nearly 120 full days of utmost accomplishments over the 5 years of my time at Waterloo. It was the time I would write the best blog posts, go out for a run, do my taxes, go to the gym downstairs, read a long PG essay, work on a web project, learn a new programming language, clean out my gmail, read lifehacker.com, plan a vacation, clean my room, or get into a state of deep introspection — all tasks I considered highly productive that I normally wouldn't have partaken in.

I think it's a far superior strategy long-term to embrace this phenomenon rather than condemn it. Especially since the benefits are significant. At the end of the day, I end up with a slightly lower grade than I would've had I studied more thoroughly without procrastinating, but the other things I did while I was procrastinating benefited me, and made me a happier person overall.

The obvious and most useful corollary that comes out of this technique couldn't be any simpler:

If I find something to do that's even worse than studying, then I will study!

The conclusion is that whenever you have a lot of boring things to do, you just have to find something even more boring to do, and procrastinate that forever.

What doesn't count as constructive procrastination is dozing off or playing Farmville or checking Facebook/Twitter/Reddit when you should be studying. This is just regular procrastination. And it's certainly not strategic, just impulsive.


Just as the study period right before exams can be very productive, the period right before an appointment can also be quite productive if implemented correctly.

Let's say your new life goal was to always be punctual for all your appointments. And let's say you had an appointment today at 5pm. You've back calculated the latest you can start from home and still be on time is 15 minutes ahead of your appointment, so 4:45pm. What I realized was that 4:30-4:45pm was then one of the most productive times of my entire day. My efficiency was as much as 4-5 times higher than normal. My typing speed would almost certainly be over 100 wpm. It was almost like a motivational IV, but only more organic and without external stimulation.

What was happening here was just another variation on the time-boxing technique that we all know so well. Because I knew I had to stop whatever I was doing by 4:45, I would rush to get as much done by then. Since the difference in happiness between finishing a task versus merely making progress on it is so large, I would never want to leave a job half-finished, thereby motivating me to push towards completion rather than progression. By the end of my sophomore year, I realized that processing and responding to emails was a task that was best left during this period when my keyboarding skills were at their finest.


It is my hope that you too will find constructive procrastination a useful tool in your productivity toolbox for many years to come.

In the spirit of meta-ness, this very blog post was typed up as I was constructively procrastinating a rather uninteresting but useful task for work. I also managed to squeeze in laundry, clean out my fish tank, replace the water, pump my bike tires, and listen to the next Spanish lesson in my Pimsleur audio series.

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