Above I used cleaning out the garage as a positive, productive example of how we are rewarded through prediction bias, but finally cleaning out that garage might itself be procrastination, depending on what else is out there on your to-do list that it is keeping you from. If your boss is waiting for you to finish the end-of-month sales report this afternoon, and you choose to head for the garage instead, you might be engaging in “productive procrastination,” something many of us are familiar with, especially when we are working from home.
I am definitely guilty of being the person who is going to do three loads of laundry, walk the dog, do the dishes and then wipe down all the counters, because once all of those things are done, I have the felt sense that I am going to be “more productive.” That is the definition of productive procrastination especially. All of those things that I might have put aside before as I whooshed out the door in the morning because I’m going to the office now become a primary area of focus for me as I work from home.
Productive procrastination seems productive, so it can feel good, but if you are putting off tasks that need to be done to do other tasks, it could be building your stress level, and if that continues to build you could be heading for burnout. If you find yourself engaging in productive procrastination, don’t beat yourself up about it, because there are simple steps you can take to stop the cycle.
When we are telecommuting or are self-employed, it is especially important to be mindful of productive procrastination and make sure to give our brain and body a structure to follow. One of the most effective ways you can do that, if you haven’t already, is by creating a distinct room or area of your home to serve as your consistent home office, because your brain associates locations with different mental states. Then, combine that physical space with establishing “work” and “off” hours and stick to them as religiously as you can (the “off” hours being equally important as “work” hours, but in different ways).
Finally, create ongoing awareness among others in your home of those physical and temporal boundaries. By doing this you are enlisting their help. If you are prone to productive procrastination, it is critical to success for you to have a set daily structure for your space and time.
Speaking of temporal boundaries, if you find yourself engaging in productive procrastination, give yourself a time limit for it. We have a timekeeper in our brains that knows we can do a certain activity for X amount of time, and then it is time to shift.