How to Procrastinate Like a Pro

I’m not here to tell you how to stop procrastinating, I’m here to help you do it better. (I’d make a terrible addiction counsellor, wouldn’t I? “You don’t need to stop taking heroin, you just need to sprinkle meth into the mix every now and then. Go get ‘em, tiger!”)

I think most of us know by now that procrastination isn’t about being a lazy sloth who’d rather binge hours of Netflix than attack that oh so important project. No, procrastination is about the avoidance of emotions that don’t make us feel so excellent as we embark upon Daunting Tasks That Matter — emotions like fears of failure, rejection, inadequacy, shame… and *sigh*, how this little list of horrors could go on and on.

Sure, we can all work on overcoming said fears. Most of us are already doing our best to keep those feelings at bay (through therapy &/or coaching &/or liberal servings of Mai Tai’s), and we’ll keep plugging away at becoming the best possible versions of ourselves, for sure. But until that day dawns, let’s leverage the instinct to avoid our most procrastination-worthy tasks.

How to make procrastination work for you, not against you:

Pit one important task against another.

I’ll give you an example.

I’m working on two equally thrilling and intimidating endeavors right now: 1. building the speaking side of my business, and 2. writing a book.

Both are ripe for procrastination, because they involve feelings I’m prone to avoid.

“What if the conference meeting planner thinks my talk is ridiculous?” is the kind of self-doubting question that helps me make important decisions, like descaling the espresso machine (right in that moment, because there could be no better point in time to embark on such an important mission).

“What if I never find an agent?” is the kind of self-defeating question that would typically lead me to Amazon, which is where all procrastinators go to distract themselves and then die.

Cleaning small appliances and shopping for miscellany is how I used to procrastinate, friends. Now I do it so much better: I pit one daunting task against the other, holding a procrastination-off (like a dance-off, but with way less embarrassing moves) in my head. I simply out-scare myself, and in doing so, I move the productivity nut forward. All of a sudden Daunting Thing #2 doesn’t look so scary when Daunting Thing #1 is sneering at me.

Scenario 1:

  1. Research agents to send book proposal to.
  2. Get daunted.
  3. Go clean the ear wax out of my earbuds.
  4. Feel like a bag of dirt and eat watermelon-flavored Sour Patch Kids in a futile attempt to sooth my sad, scared soul.

Scenario 2:

  1. Research agents to send book proposal to.
  2. Get daunted.
  3. Swerve over to the tasks on my “build speaking business” list (which daunted the shit out of me yesterday but all of a sudden seems like a warm embrace compared to contacting disinterested agents).
  4. Send two emails to meeting planners and feel like a warrior, proud of my two steps forward.
  5. Eat watermelon-flavored Sour Patch Kids as a healthy celebration of my remarkable productivity.

Of course there’s a Scenario 3 out there that involves me being brave and just sending my book proposal out to 30 editors in one fell swoop, but this wouldn’t be an article about procrastination if I/we had our act together.

What to do next (i.e.: productively procrastinate):

  1. Pick two daunting and important things you need/ want to get done.
  2. As you dive into one of them, make minor headway, and then feel gripped by the desire to do ANYTHING other than the task at hand, consciously redirect yourself to any item on the Daunting Thing #2 “get done” list. (Key point: avoid Amazon.)

If you bounce back and forth between two behemoth projects, both will get done. Will you be epically efficient? Not in the slightest. Will you feel focused and determined? Not magnificently, no. Will the tasks get done? Yes.

As William James once said, “Procrastination is attitude’s natural assassin. There’s nothing so fatiguing as an uncompleted task.” If we’re going to avoid anything, let’s avoid the fatigue of incompletion… and worry about failure and rejection and ridicule some other time.

Public Service Announcement (sponsored by the Grim Reaper):

There is one macro area you can’t procrastinate, though — even using the ultra-productive system we’ve just discussed. You can’t procrastinate YOUR LIFE. When you find yourself putting off trips and visits with friends and trying pickleball and starting that podcast and training for your first triathlon and all the other things you’ve fathomed might be delightful to do, DO IT NOW. Don’t wait (as I’ve begged you before not to do, here). You might not make it long enough to snorkel in the Maldives. You might not be alive long enough to write that children’s book. You might kick the bucket before you learn how to speak French. And as they say, in French… c’est dommage.

Jodi Wellman

P.S.: Fun fact! I procrastinated the crap out of writing this article. But I did it like I recommend… to my advantage. While delaying these words and the corresponding doodle of the to-do list, I got several important things done that have been on my “I Should Really Get Around to Doing This” list: I reached out to an old colleague from 25 (!!) years ago… I read an arduous research paper… and sorted through a slew of notes and musings that just might make their way into the book. Now if I can productively-procrastinate my way towards finding an agent, you just might get to read those musings!

P.P.S.: Oh and just in case you missed it… I’d love you forever if you took 16 minutes out of your life to watch my TEDx talk!


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