5 Types of Unproductive Procrastination and How to Stop it Now

© 2011 Sylvia Liu

The new year is a great time to make changes. My main resolution for 2014 is to stop procrastinating.

Procrastination, or the inability to focus on your task at hand because you are willfully distracting yourself, is one of the most self-defeating behaviors of a creative person. In a companion post to this one, writer and illustrator Yvonne Mes writes about ways to procrastinate productively. If you follow her tips, you can at least benefit from your procrastination.

Here I will tell you about the very unproductive, totally time-sucking ways you might procrastinate and rate them on a productivity scale, from 1 to 10. I speak of these from intimate experience.

1.  Playing computer games like Candy Crush

Productivity Scale: 0

There is no redeeming value to being able to reach level 436 of a never-ending game that only sucks vast chunks of time from your work. Get off the games!

2.  Cleaning/organizing your workspace

Productivity Scale: 1

The one benefit from a creative point of view is that you may locate lost tools like a trusty paintbrush or the notes you need to write your story. And some people feel better about working in an ordered space. Otherwise, tidying your workspace will make you less creative, according to recent research at the University of Minnesota. The researchers discovered that working in a slightly chaotic environment encourages more creativity, originality, and thinking outside the box.

3.  If working at home, doing laundry/ housework/ bill paying/ errands

Productivity Scale: 0

Yes, you need to keep your household running, but you do not need to waste your most productive hours (whenever you are most mentally alert) doing those tasks. The dishes and bill paying can wait until you are tired or when you can’t concentrate (say when kids come home or after a long day of work). Also, remember that you can delegate responsibilities to other members of the household (if you have some other members). 

4.  Checking email, surfing the internet, or social networking for pleasure

Productivity Scale: ½

Maybe surfing for cute cat videos or watching the latest viral video could spark a creative thought that leads to your next masterpiece. But most likely not. Surfing the net, Facebooking, or tweeting is not a productive use of time, unless you are doing it to network or learn in your field (a productive form of procrastination, as Yvonne explains).   

5.  Taking a snack/ coffee/ tea break or waiting until the conditions are just right to begin

Productivity Scale: ½

I get it. It’s hard to face a blank screen and start writing, or a blank paper and start sketching, especially at the beginning of a large project and when you’re not in the proper frame of mind. But the best way to put yourself in a proper frame of mind is to just start writing or drawing. Think of it as warming yourself up. So instead of diving straight into your work, doodle some doodles, write some journal entries, just to get the creative juices flowing.

Some practical tips to avoid unproductive procrastination:

  • Take your work seriously. Set working hours that may not be disturbed or interrupted, whether it is an hour or 10 hours a day.

  • Don’t wait for inspiration or the muse to strike, just work consistently. This is a corollary to point 1: treat your work as work, and not a hobby.  E.B. White said, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

  • Break your work into manageable pieces. If it helps, make a To Do list of the manageable pieces. The idea of writing a novel is daunting, but writing one paragraph is not. Never doubt that small incremental pieces of work will add up to a significant work. Gretchen Rubin, author of the Happiness Project, has said, “We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period, provided we work slowly and consistently.”

  • To avoid writer’s block (a prime time to procrastinate), follow Ernest Hemingway’s advice: always stop at a point where you know what will happen next. The next time you take up your work, you can dive right in.

  • Quiet the inner voices of doubt and believe in yourself. When you procrastinate unproductively, you are telling yourself that folding laundry or playing a computer game is more important than expressing yourself creatively in a form that you can share with the world. Stop short changing yourself. Maybe you’re not ready for prime time, but washing the dishes won’t help you get there. Working on your craft and improving your skills will. 

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