We have all been there.
You’re sitting at your desk with a big assignment looming – and you have to focus. Except that you can’t. Every time you sit down to work, you get distracted – by Facebook, by your phone, by the butterfly outside your window… You know you need to stop liking your friend’s lunch shot and stop staring outside or you’ll never make the deadline, but you just can’t seem to get motivated.
It’s not really your fault. Biologically, your limbic system and prefrontal cortex are at war. While your prefrontal cortex is telling you to get yourself together and get your work done, your limbic system is reminding you how good it feels to see how many “likes” you’ve gotten from your latest Instagram picture. As you know from experience, the limbic system wins a lot.
So, what can you do?
The answer is to procrastinate productively. Today, we are showing you five ways to do just that.
1 | Clean.
Unless you’re a cleaning goddess – something I aspire to be one day – your home probably isn’t sparkling like it was featured in a Scrubbing Bubble ad. And that’s okay! One way to productively procrastinate is to clean: do your dishes, make your bed, dust off your desk, and wash your clothes. According to a study by Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin, women who described their homes as a “mess” or “unfinished,” tended to have an “increased depressed mood over the course of the day.” If you are feeling more depressed, you’re less likely to feel the need to be productive. When you tidy up, you’ll not only have clean underwear for the rest of the week, but you will also have an organized place to work with minimal distractions.
2 | Make to-do lists.
To-do lists aren’t for everyone, and I understand that, but if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by everything you need to get done – whether for a specific project or by many tasks that are piling up – a list can help. Write everything you have to do and then prioritize what needs to get done by when. This way, you can easily see what you have coming up. The truth is, according to McGill University neuroscience professor Daniel Levitin, people can really only hold about four things in their mind at a time. Unless your day consists of eat breakfast, eat lunch, take afternoon nap, and eat dinner, you definitely have more than four things on your to-do list. When you have a list, you have structure and your brain has some relief from not trying to remember every little thing. Plus, as an added bonus, scratching things off your list is extremely satisfying.
3 | Accomplish non-urgent tasks.
Get your motivation up by activating your sense of accomplishment! It sounds silly, I know, but there’s nothing better than looking at what you’ve already accomplished. When you complete smaller, less-urgent tasks, you can say to yourself: “I’ve done these five things already! This one other thing isn’t that bad.” A lot of people fall into the unhelpful mindset that if they spend a lot of time on one thing then they aren’t being as productive as they would be if they accomplished several things in the same amount of time. If you can get rid of these smaller tasks, by delegating them to someone else, even better! By decluttering your to-do list, you can be able to focus more on what is important.
4 | Go for a walk outside.
Get out of your room, the library, your office, or wherever you’re trying to be productive. Go find a peaceful place – like a park or a hiking trail – and spend some time in nature. Don’t just walk down a busy street and call it a day. Besides just breaking up the monotony of sitting in the same place for hours on end, getting in touch with nature can actually help you focus more once you’ve returned to work. There have been studies that looked at children with ADHD and found that they were able to focus more after spending time outside. So go for a walk! Stretch your legs and take some photos to get likes on Instagram.
5 | Take a nap.
I know this sounds counterproductive, but taking a nap is actually one of the best things you can do, especially if you have been studying or working on a project for a long time. I’m not talking about sleeping for the next six hours and saying that you’ve accomplished something, but researchers found that regularly taking one-hour naps can help prevent the feeling of burnout and even improved performance on certain visual tasks. If you’ve reached a point in your work where you feel as though you can take no more, go get cozy and take a little cat-nap.
No matter how you decide to procrastinate, make sure it’s moderately productive! You don’t want to fall victim of the YouTube rabbit hole – where you swear you’ll watch just one more puppy video. It’s never just one more and you know it!
What is your favorite way to productively procrastinate?