the art of productive procrastination

It’s 3 PM on a Wednesday and you’re staring at your to-do list. You know that you need to start working on those tasks, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it. Sound familiar?

There’s a reason why the old saying “work smarter, not harder” is so popular. When it comes to getting things done, many people struggle with procrastination. Ask anyone with ADHD and other neurodivergence, executive dysfunction can ruin a day, a week, or a month. So what can you do to overcome this tendency and be more productive? One strategy is to learn how to practice productive procrastination.

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How to prod an ADHD brain into action

I’ve been procrastinating on cleaning my bedroom for weeks. I don’t mind much, though. So far, I’ve reorganized a huge mess of folders and files on my computer that had to be de-tangled for forever, got up-to-date on dishes, established a business plan from start to finish, and had multiple soothing or solution-finding conversations with my partner who is currently under a lot of stress. And that’s just a few of the things I did!

All of those things are pretty positive to me! And most of these were being procrastinated on until my new procrastination showed up.

Do I wish i had a clean and tidy bedroom right now? yes.

It’s not “gross” dirty, it just looks like a toddler on a temper tantrum set the place upside-down and then left.

In the past couple of months, I’ve had a very, very short attention span, and an even shorter amount of patience. The spoons(see spoon theory) were few and far between, and most spoons were not spoons, they were actually chopsticks.

I don’t know how to use chopsticks.

Long story short, I would take what I needed for whatever thing I was doing, and leave it where I stopped doing the thing. Keep doing that for a couple of months and… Yep.

The thing is, executive dysfunction is really hard to manage, as I’m sure you know. Between the social media doom-scrolling, deep-diving into weird hyperfocus research, and lying down in bed to stare at the ceiling, nothing much is getting done.

And THAT’S why I’m okay with my messy room

Did I doom-scroll? Did I deep-dive into a wikipedia-fueled rabbit hole about the origin of solo cups? Did I stare at the ceiling for hours? No. I did things, just not THE thing.

… And also stared at the ceiling a little bit.

ANYWAY

So, what’s on your radar of things to do? Once you highlight the “big bag thing you don’t want to do at all” what’s left? And if you keep your to-do list pretty short, there’s usually another, bigger list of “eventually’s” to look at.

Swipe the floor? Do laundry? Rearrange the absolute mess in your email account? Make some artsy craftsy things you’ve been putting off forever?

Figuring out that one new thing™ you didn’t take out of the packaging yet because it’s new and shiny and you’re unable to make yourself start using it because you won’t be perfect at it? (Yeah, don’t think I didn’t see you)

Whatever answer you have to this, you might look at those other tasks in a new light now that you have something to actively procrastinate on. Heck, I’ve managed to do college essays as productive procrastination!

Okay, okay, but how does it work?

While I don’t have much of a scientific approach to this particular way of doing things, I know that us people with ADHD are very dopamine-driven. What I believe makes the productive procrastination a successful concept, is that the task you are avoiding is a 0 dopamine task, while the tasks you’ve been pushing off may look like they have more dopamine than you first thought. Now that you’ve got something to actively ignore, all kinds of other stuff is getting more interesting!

This is my third blog post draft today, because I’m productively procrastinating a different blog post idea that I deemed too complicated for my brain today.

Sometimes it’s not about doing the thing, it’s about doing a thing. Or rather, it’s about doing something. And I’ve come to realize, recently, that there aren’t that many things in my daily life that are set in stone, even if it seemed that way before.

There are appointments, there are events, and depending on the job you do, there’s a work schedule of sorts. Maybe your job is more of a shift schedule, so it would be part of the “fixed” category, or it is less about the shift hours and more about the work done, which can be played with, or maybe you don’t have a job.

Whichever the case, we all have the “fixed” and “movable” categories, and the earlier you start from, the more lenience you have to play with. For example, let’s say you set up an overview of the next two weeks. You have marked off the appointments, events, and work times if necessary, to see what’s left of your time.

Where does laundry fit? Dishes? Is there a set garbage day? When do you tidy up, or when do you do the groceries? When do you do ______ thing?

With a list of these movable tasks and a 2-week overview, you can schedule things ahead of their deadline (don’t wait for the last pair of panties for the laundry!) and it gives you room to play around.

LET’S MAKE AN EXAMPLE

Monday, you had “laundry” down, but you really, really can’t deal with that crap right now… However, you’re down to do ____ thing that was written-in for Wednesday. You’re not entirely out of laundry, so you can push that and do the Wednesday thing instead!

The more space you give yourself before the “deadline”, the more room you have to swap things around until you get to a point where doing the laundry is now inevitable.

But what happens when the deadline is right now and I don’t want to do the stupid laundry?

Yep, been there. Just like any of your “fixed” tasks, sometimes a “movable” task will become “fixed” as it reaches the deadline. Gotta get that laundry done, afterall! However, there are two things to consider:

  1. How many things did you swap for the laundry and actually got done, instead of getting mentally stuck on the laundry?
  2. How many of these things you did felt more like a chore than an escape from the other, less fun chore?

Chances are, the overall outcome will be better with the productive procrastination system than without.

So what now?

Well, now, I guess you gonna have to do the laundry, cause you’re running out of underwear. While it’s not infallible, here’s a little trick that sometimes gets be through a shitty chore, which in this case, is laundry:

1, 2, 3, 4… 5…

Get up from where you are, and pick up one, then two, then three… all the way to either 10 clothing items, or as many as you see on the way to the laundry machine. Is the laundry machine full? Most likely not, unless one of those 10 items was an entire laundry basket(that’s allowed, of course!)

And now, you’re at the laundry machine. If you feel like you can spare a tiny amount of extra energy, pick up some extra stuff. If not, you got at least 10 things in the laundry machine, possibly more that were tossed there beforehand, and you’re right at the spot you need to be to put laundry soap and hit the start button.

There is no wrong answer.

On the subject of laundry, I’ll be making a post about that soon, which I will link here about how to effectively make laundry an easier task in a few, simple ways!

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