Structured Procrastination

anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment. -- Robert Benchley, in Chips off the Old Benchley, 1949

I procrastinate a lot.

Instead of studying for exams, I participate in hackathons instead.

Instead of writing my medium blogs, I decide to change the look of this website and add a new feature.

Instead of applying for grad school and writing my personal statement, I've been putting it off because I'm afraid when I write it, I'll have to face the fact that I'm not a good enough applicant.

While reading "Pmarca Guide to Personal Productivity", I came across the concept of structured procrastination by John Perry, a philosophy professor at Stanford.

The gist of it is you can use procrastination to your advantage to get other things done.

You have a list of tasks that you have to do, ordered by importance.

The tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top.

But there are also worthwhile tasks to perform lower down.

By doing those tasks, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen, acquiring the reputation for getting a lot done.

There is always something you have to do that you're putting off, and while you're procrastinating, just do lots of other stuff instead.

The trick here is to pick the right sort of projects for the top of the list.

The two characteristics of such tasks are:

  • (1) They seem to have clear deadlines (but really don't)
  • (2) They seem to be important (but really aren't)

Luckily, life is abound with such tasks with unreal deadlines and inflated importance.

To execute structured procrastination, you need a certain a mount of self-deception.

You need to be able to recognize and commit to these "decoy" tasks, while making yourself feel they are important and urgent.