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How to use procrastination to your advantage

Jordan Gonen uses the dread of hated tasks as motivation to tackle other important things on his to-do list.
Image: Writing checklist
When you use procrastination as motivation to get things done — that is, so you can avoid doing that one thing you really would rather not do — you can be quite productive. Wutthichai Luemuang / EyeEm - Getty Images/

Hopeless procrastinators rejoice: There is a way to use procrastination to your advantage.

Are you avoiding doing something really important right now by reading this article? Then you’re already on the right path.

Most procrastinators make the mistake of doing nothing at all — wasting countless hours in front of the TV or looking at their social media. But when you use procrastination as motivation to get things done — that is, so you can avoid doing that one thing you really would rather not do — you can be quite productive. It’s what essayist John Perry calls “structured procrastination.”

How structured procrastination works

College senior Jordan Gonen, 21, is what you might call a structured procrastinator. He uses his dread of homework as motivation to tackle other important tasks, like writing articles for his blog, sending emails, exercising or making pre-made meals for the week.

“Structured procrastination is the idea that you can do a lot of these small tasks in place of the large tasks that you are procrastinating, because your mind doesn’t want to have to think about that larger one,” Gonen tells NBC News BETTER.

Jordan Gonen uses 'structured procrastination' to boost his productivity.Jordan Gonen

Let’s say, for example, you have a number of tasks you are avoiding, in order of urgency 1) Finishing an essay 2) Responding to emails 3) Cleaning and doing laundry 4) Going to the gym.

A non-procrastinator would accomplish these tasks in order or urgency. A procrastinator would avoid doing them altogether. But a structured procrastinator would do them in reverse — using his desire to avoid writing the essay as motivation to go to the gym, clean and respond to emails.

“When you’re procrastinating in your mind you’re kind of blocking out that one thing you don’t want to have to worry about,” says Gonen. “In the meantime, some people can distract their mind by watching Netflix or a variety of ways, but if you can reprogram that so you’re actually distracting your mind by working on other things that are still valuable, then you can get a lot done really quickly.”

Focus on quick wins

For example, if Gonen is overcome with dread at the idea of homework, he’ll preoccupy himself with what he calls “quick wins” — sending emails and writing articles for his blog.

“It’s still procrastinating my homework, but instead of doing nothing in the meantime, I’m still getting a lot done,” he says.

Gonen, who attends Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, refers to to this procrastination time as “power hours.”

Once he gets through these smaller to-do’s, Gonen can more easily get into the mindset of tackling his homework.

“A lot of these tasks that aren’t particularly fun or aren’t particularly productive, if you can really knock them out really quickly over a certain period of time, then you can get a lot more done and it doesn’t feel necessarily worse — you’re just working 100 percent on whatever you’re working on,” Gonen says.

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