The last few weeks it seems every other article I come across is advocating ‘structured’ or ‘planned’ procrastination, and it’s really starting to bug me.
In some instances I think the advice is well-meaning. In others, it just seems to be a case of jumping on a popular bandwagon.
In all instances it is wrong.
Defining productivity and procrastination
I spotted a great definition of productivity on Think Productive’s Twitter feed the other day:
“productivity is achieving what you want to achieve, for the least amount of effort.”
This really sums up for me what productivity is all about.
A productivity system, such as GTD, is a set of tools and techniques you choose to apply to achieve that goal.
Finding a system to help you achieve productivity
Opinions vary on different productivity systems and their effectiveness, which is fine. Personally I adopt GTD (or my own interpretation of it), but I’m sure there are many other great ones in use today. For me, they all need to have:
- A mechanism for defining the things you want to achieve (i.e your tasks or projects)
- A mechanism for prioritising things (i.e. determining which things are the most important and which things are the most urgent, which is often but not always the same thing)
- A mechanism for deciding when to do each thing (i.e. a schedule, or a pipeline of tasks)
Great systems also include structured methods for dealing with new incoming tasks and/or information, ensuring you review your tasks and priorities regularly and other tips to keep your workflow manageable.
A planned pause does not equal procrastination
Within the constraints of your chosen system I would expect the ability to reach one of the following valid conclusions:
- A particular task is not the most urgent or important (and therefore may not need immediate action)
- The appropriate next action to do now is nothing (what has been called a ‘productive pause’, or even just a break to do something fun)
I do not consider either of these two scenarios to be procrastination. An effective productivity system allows you to prioritise time for yourself and to defer tasks according to relative urgency or importance.
Procrastination is a failure of your system
Procrastination occurs when a task, according to your productivity system, becomes due and you do not act.
Effectively you are saying “the urgency and importance of this task, relative to all others, demands immediate action” and then failing to act on it. Or to quote Tara Rodden-Robinson:
“Procrastination is a big fat liar: it tells you that tasks are bigger, harder, more difficult to complete than they really are.”
How can this ever be a “good” thing?
Structured procrastination is an excuse
The concept of ‘structured procrastination’ has not suddenly emerged this last few weeks ; John Perry has been advocating it since 1995 and has even written a book about it (check out his website ).
The basic notion is that “procrastinators” (or as I would put it, people who lack a fully effective productivity system) often avoid tasks at the top of their todo list by doing the ones further down (in other words, making poor priority calls).
The ‘structured’ solution proposed is effectively to introduce ‘false’ items to the top of the list, hereby tricking yourself into carrying out the ‘genuine’ items further down (which were really the priority items in the first place).
Do I need to point out what a ridiculous notion this is? Aside from requiring you to be complicit in your own self-deception, this approach completely fails to address the underlying symptoms:
- Why aren’t you prioritising effectively?
- Why are you unable to act on the tasks you believe to be urgent and/or important?
Anyone who is regularly falling into the trap of failing to act on the tasks they consider to be most urgent or important would be far better served by taking the time to identify and address these root causes. A few possible causes could be:
- The lack of tools/techniques (acting on your gut)
- Poorly implemented systems (applying a technique poorly)
- Lack of embedding (developing productive habits)
- Firefighting (not taking the time to regroup when it all goes wrong)
The list is surely longer, but my advice to anyone considering structured procrastination is:
Go online, speak to friends, visit blogs like mine! Find a set of tools and techniques that feels right for you and invest the time and effort to get them embedded in your daily routine.
Then you won’t need excuses like ‘I’m a structured procrastinator.’