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Productive Procrastination is Ruining Your Life

Here's How to Stop

Happy Tuesday and Welcome back to… THE JAILBREAK.
(along with 650+ readers 🗝️ )

I’ve always been the type of person to wait until the very last second to start a project with a deadline. Didn’t matter if it was school work, a personal project, or even just cleaning my room.

If there was a deadline, I was going to procrastinate.

For some people, this is a MAJOR problem.

But not for me…

I somehow always managed to get things done just before the clock ran out. For years I thought I was just more efficient than other people, that I worked well under pressure, and that I didn’t need a long time to get a project completed.

But what I didn’t know is that this was secretly ruining my life and if this sounds like you… There’s a pretty good chance it’s ruining your life too.

What is Productive Procrastination?

Productive Procrastination:

When you ignore your most important task (either subconsciously or on purpose) and instead work on other, easier tasks that make you feel like you’re being productive.

Not only can it trick you into thinking you’re making progress, but because the activities you’re procrastinating with are semi-productive, it can mask the problem entirely — leaving critical tasks to rot.

The Pareto Principle states that 80% of consequences come from 20% of actions — this means that the most vital (and typically most difficult) tasks are what will actually make a difference in your life.

Productive procrastination is the act of neglecting these vital tasks.

Why It’s Ruining Your Life

Like I said before, this kind of procrastination is extra insidious because it makes you think you’re actually making progress on your goals when in reality… you’re not.

Here are ways productive procrastination might be ruining your life:

1. Failing Goals

This is one of the most telling traits of productive procrastination. If you’re consistently working hard and consistently NOT hitting your goals, there is something wrong.

Failing to achieve your goals usually happens for one of these reasons:

  1. You have no clarity

  2. You are afraid

The formula for success is as follows:

Clarity + Path + Effort − Fear = Success

Productive procrastination preys on those who don’t have clear goals and those who are too afraid to act on them.

2. Avoidance

What if you DO have goals? What if you know exactly what you need to do but you’re still not doing it?

Well, If this is the case… you’re probably afraid.

Avoidant behavior is actually a fear response and it makes perfect sense if you think about it: Your brain evolved to avoid things that are bad for you! The only issue is that these important tasks that you’re procrastinating aren’t bad for you… They’re actually REALLY GOOD for you.

Fears that could be causing your procrastination:

  • Fear of getting started

  • Fear of failure or inability to complete the task

  • Fear of judgment or rejection

  • Fear of hard work and discomfort

3. Overcommitment

It’s harder to finish a project than it is to start a new one. Given the choice, which one do you think the productive procrastinator would pick?

The more projects you pick up, the more semi-productive tasks you can distract yourself with while the important ones go from to-do to to-didn’t

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
- Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

Productive procrastinators also tend to have a bad case of shiny object syndrome. This leads to constantly shifting your focus to new, popular things at the expense of what you really want to achieve.

How to Stop Productive Procrastination

1. Set Goals

The first step to fighting back against productive procrastination is by gaining clarity over what you want in life. How can you expect to know what you should be focusing on if you don’t have goals to direct you?

If you don’t set your own goals,
goals will be assigned to you.

Without clear goals, you are constantly subject to distraction and procrastination. But if you know exactly what you want, the next step to getting it becomes clear. 

Confusion is exhausting and if you exist in a state of confusion (i.e. you have no goals) then you’re always going to be struggling to find the next step.

In this struggle to find the next step, productive procrastination thrives.

Check out my Ultimate Guide to Goal-Setting if you want to learn how to turn your dreams into crystal-clear action plans.

2. Embrace Your Fear

If fear is causing you to avoid your most important tasks then there are two things you need to do if you want to end your productive procrastination.

The first is understanding and overcoming the anxiety-avoidance cycle:

  1. Fear and anxiety cause negative feelings

  2. Avoid the thing that causes negative feelings

  3. Avoiding gives you a feeling of immediate relief

  4. Brain learns to avoid things that make you anxious

Once you start seeing this pattern emerge in your behavior, you can start fighting against it and re-training your brain to conquer fear and seek discomfort so you can achieve your goals.

The second thing you need to do is name your fears.

  1. Define: Write out all of your fears about a task

  2. Prevent: Write what you can do to stop the fear from coming true

  3. Repair: Write how you can fix the situation if it does happen

After you do this you’ll notice that most of your fears aren’t quite as scary as you thought they were and that there’s always something you can do to fix things. Here’s a free template to do this exercise yourself.

3. Laugh at Perfection

9/10 dentists agree that the #1 cause of procrastination is “perfection”.

It fuels productive procrastination by sticking non-critical tasks directly between you and your goal. Depending on how much of a perfectionist you are, you could use this as an excuse to postpone the completion of your task forever. (I know I sure could…)

In “Art of Fear” there’s a story about a ceramics teacher who divides his class into two groups. One group's grade was decided by a single, perfect piece of pottery. The other group was graded by the number of pieces they produced. Every time, the group graded on quantity made higher-quality pieces.

Perfection is the enemy of done.
Done is the engine of more.
More is the path to better.


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Thanks so much for reading another issue of THE JAILBREAK! I hope this helped you understand the impact of productive procrastination and gave you the tools you need to fight back.

Til next time, Nomads. ✌️

- Jack Ross

Jack Ross (Data Engineer, Writer, Nomad)

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