Thursday, June 12, 2008

Deferring the Deferrable: or how to practice the art of productive procrastion

I procrastinate. I procrastinate all the time. If I don't see a need to do something now, I'll wait until there is a better time to do it. I find that this makes me much more productive than if I were to do everything that is asked of me when it is asked of me.
I like procrastinating for many reasons. The biggest benefit to procrastination is the benefit of information. In the time between when you become aware of a task and you undertake its execution you learn information about that task. Information regarding how to perform a task, with what other tasks to perform a task, and when to best perform a task.
The more time you spend gathering information about the task, the better prepared you will be actually executing it.
This part of procrastination could actually be described as planning. I call it procrastination because I let the planning process incubate in my head without giving it my undivided attention. Instead I think about details of the tasks when the opportunities arise. It's kind of a low impact exercise in planning.
Whenever something falls into my todo list I will immediately triage whether it needs to be executed immediately.
If I don't have to do it immediately I'm going to think about aspects of the task until I do it as the opportunities arise. The opportunities can be brief, a minute here or there, or even a few seconds. Every thought on a task gives me more information about the task.
One myth that people believe is that if you do work as soon as it comes that you'll get more done. That's completely false. Unless there is someone planning and scheduling that work for you, you're completely at the mercy of when the tasks come in. The likelihood of a task requiring a context change is going to be high. You will be busy and you will look busy, but you won't be efficient.
One perceived risk of procrastination in general is not meeting your commitments or underperforming. I do not believe that responsible procrastination increases the risk of not doing your work. If anything, I think it will improve your task throughput.
To help with task tracking I keep a simple todo list. If I can't, or choose not to, execute a task immediately I will add it to my todo list. I use Remember The Milk. I use a plugin to gmail to keep my list visible. RTM accepts incoming tasks via email and SMS so I can add tasks even when I am not near a computer.
You can use whatever list you want to track your outstanding tasks. The features I look for in a task tracking system is ease of use and availability. If I can see the information in gmail it isn't going to stray too far from my attention.
The key to being productive with this system is executing and closing out tasks efficiently. If you have control over when you do tasks you can work on like tasks together. Group them by context and close them out. You'll be surprised how much you'll actually get done.

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