Productive Procrastination: I have a lot on my to-do list… Let me organize my spice drawer first.

I have like a million things to do and many looming deadlines. Yet I find yourself gravitating towards something entirely different, something that has no urgent need to be addressed but somehow I have convinced myself it’s a priority. In my case, it was my spice drawer. IT WAS NOW TIME TO ORGANIZE MY SPICE DRAWER.

Organized Spice Drawer

I remember it was a Monday, and the list of tasks I had to accomplish was longer than a child’s wish list for Santa. But instead of plunging into my pile of work, I found myself standing in front of my kitchen counter, gazing at the unorganized chaos that was my spice drawer.

Cumin was jumbled with turmeric, there was an unexplainable surplus of paprika, and I was pretty sure I could smell nutmeg despite not having used it in months. It was a small thing, yet it stood there as a perfect metaphor of my current state of mind – cluttered, a bit confusing, and spicy. I decided right then and there that I couldn’t possibly be expected to draft a comprehensive work report or complete any other task from my to-do list until my spice drawer was as orderly as a library index.

And so, I dove into the world of productive procrastination. A world where the to-do list is ever-present, yet takes a back seat to activities that offer a gratifying blend of avoidance and accomplishment. This is my journey.

What is Productive Procrastination?

Productive procrastination is a rather fascinating paradox. It’s a dance between doing something and not doing something else. It’s the act of delaying a task deemed as priority by choosing to perform other tasks that, while not as urgent, are productive or beneficial in their own way.

If we peel back the layers of human psychology, it’s not hard to find the roots of procrastination. It often stems from feelings of overwhelm, fear of failure, or a lack of motivation or interest in the task at hand. We all have moments when we’re reluctant to start a challenging project, confront a difficult decision, or navigate a complicated process.

Productive procrastination, then, is our brain’s ingenious way of saying, “I know we have things to do, but let’s take a different route.” Instead of merely idling or choosing fruitless distractions like mindlessly scrolling social media or binge-watching a TV series, productive procrastination directs us towards tasks that offer their own value.

So there I was, faced with my cluttered spice drawer. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t the most pressing task on my to-do list, but it was something that needed doing. Plus, it offered a break from the more daunting tasks that were sparking my anxiety. By choosing to focus on the spices, I was productively procrastinating – using my time to accomplish something beneficial, while deferring those tasks that felt overwhelming.

I started my journey with a search on Google. found a kit on Amazon with 30 empty spice bottles, lids, and labels for the lids and sides of the bottles. The kit had over a 1,000 reviews. I knew that I was not alone. I should do this. I should do this now.

The Art of Productive Procrastination

The crucial question is: what makes a type of procrastination “productive”? Not all detours from our primary tasks are created equal. Binging an entire season of a show on Netflix, while tempting, hardly qualifies as productive. Productive procrastination has a few key elements that set it apart.

  • The procrastination should involve an activity that is beneficial or constructive in its own right. Organizing my spice drawer might not have been a pressing task, but it made my future cooking easier, my kitchen tidier, and honestly, it brought a strange peace of mind to see all those tiny jars aligned so neatly.
  • The procrastination activity should ideally be smaller or less time-consuming than the primary task. The idea is to give your brain a rest, not to swap a big task for an even bigger one. If your procrastination ends up taking more time and energy than your original task, then you’ve simply replaced one burden with another.
  • Productive procrastination should ideally contribute indirectly to the primary task. For example, organizing your workspace might make it easier to get started on a big project. Or perhaps, like in my case, the simple act of organizing my spice drawer could provide a mental break, and clear some of the mental clutter that was hindering my other tasks.

Productive procrastination is not just about doing something other than what you’re supposed to do; it’s about choosing wisely what that “something else” is. The aim is to find activities that yield their own benefits, provide a mental reset, and ultimately support your ability to tackle the larger tasks at hand.

The Pros of Productive Procrastination

Productive procrastination can lead to stress reduction. The primary tasks we procrastinate on often come with their share of pressure, expectations, and sometimes anxiety. By momentarily shifting our attention to a simpler task, we’re granting ourselves a break from this stress. As I sifted through the assortment of spices, I wasn’t worrying about the deadlines or the presentations. I was merely deciding whether rosemary should go next to thyme or sage.

Productive procrastination can stimulate creativity. When you change your focus, especially to something less demanding, you let your mind wander a bit. This can often lead to unexpected insights or solutions related to your main task. As I was organizing my spices, my mind was free to wander, and I found myself coming up with creative ideas for my pending projects.

Productive procrastination allows you to accomplish tasks that you might have been neglecting. These tasks may not be urgent, but they still need to be done at some point. My spice drawer didn’t need immediate attention, but organizing it did make my kitchen more functional.

Productive procrastination can serve as a positive coping mechanism. It’s a way of managing your workload without becoming overwhelmed. Sometimes, we just need to give ourselves permission to avoid that intimidating task temporarily and do something that feels more manageable.

The Cons of Productive Procrastination

While productive procrastination can offer some surprising benefits, it isn’t without its potential pitfalls. Understanding these can help us better navigate this strategy and avoid falling into counterproductive traps.

Productive procrastination should not become an excuse to indefinitely postpone priority tasks. As satisfying as it was to see my spices alphabetized, I couldn’t keep finding new drawers to organize just to avoid my primary tasks. The danger of productive procrastination is that it can sometimes feel so rewarding that it becomes a new form of avoidance altogether.

This strategy can create a false sense of productivity. Sure, it feels good to cross off tasks on your to-do list, but if none of them move you closer to your major goals or deadlines, then the sense of productivity is misleading. A completely reorganized kitchen is satisfying, but it wouldn’t help much if I missed my work deadlines because of it.

Productive procrastination can sometimes create more stress in the long run. While it provides a temporary respite from stressful tasks, those tasks aren’t going anywhere. By delaying them, you might end up with less time to complete them, which can result in rushing, making mistakes, or producing lower quality work.

It’s important to remember that productive procrastination is not about avoiding work; it’s about managing energy, focus, and productivity. Balance is key here. It’s crucial to know when to allow yourself to engage in productive procrastination and when it’s time to roll up your sleeves and tackle the big, challenging tasks head-on.

Productive Procrastination in Action: Organizing My Spice Drawer

Let’s circle back to my spice drawer. While it wasn’t on my immediate to-do list, it stood as a thorn in my side every time I cooked. Every search for oregano was a spelunking adventure. Every glance at the clutter was a low-level irritant. It was time to tackle the drawer of aromatic chaos.

First, I emptied the drawer entirely, a clean slate. I then categorized the spices, grouping them by type – herbs, seeds, powders, blends, etc. I found a surprising amount of duplicates and even a couple of expired items. I took an empty bottle and filled it with the spices and combining the duplicates. The kit had a silicone funnel which made it easy to fill. I used a label on the side of the bottle and the lid. The longest part of the process was matching the labels.

I even got my kid involved and it turned into a surprisingly fun activity. George invented his own spice blend called, G Spice, which was a mixture of the leftover and expired spices.

George Making G Spice

In the process, I realized that this simple act of sorting and tidying, while not urgent or crucial to my work, was beneficial. It was a brief interlude of peace in a day that was otherwise filled with stressful tasks. I allowed my mind to wander, which led to a couple of innovative ideas for my pending work projects. Not to mention, my cooking routine became more streamlined and efficient.

The entire process took about two hours, but the payoff was immediate. I felt a sense of calm and accomplishment. And, everytime that I open the spice drawer, I revel in the organization.

Tips to Productively Procrastinate

Everyone’s methods for productive procrastination will look different, depending on your work habits, personal preferences, and the tasks at hand.

  1. Identify productive tasks: Just like my spice drawer, you likely have a plethora of tasks that would qualify as productive procrastination. They might be cleaning your workspace, organizing your email inbox, or perhaps doing some light reading related to your field. The key is to identify tasks that are beneficial, even if they’re not urgent.
  2. Timebox your procrastination: Give yourself a set amount of time for your productive procrastination activity. This can help ensure you’re not avoiding your primary tasks indefinitely.
  3. Use it as a mental break: Choose tasks that aren’t too taxing and allow your mind to rest or wander. The goal is to relieve stress and reset your mind, not to overwhelm it with another demanding task.
  4. Apply the two-minute rule: If you’re finding it hard to get started on a big task, start with something small. The two-minute rule suggests that if you have a task you can do in two minutes or less, do it immediately. This can often get the ball rolling and make it easier to start on more substantial tasks.
  5. Stay aware: Keep in mind the potential pitfalls of productive procrastination. If you find yourself cleaning every drawer in the house instead of tackling your to-do list, it might be time to reevaluate.
  6. Balance is key: Productive procrastination is not a replacement for tackling your primary tasks, but a tool to use alongside them. Use it when you need a break or a boost, not as an excuse to avoid important tasks.

Have fun procrastinating. What work are you putting off to read this blog post?

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