Really productive ways to procrastinate

Recognizing the beginning of a procrastination loop can help you cut it short

Very few people with any experience working with computers need any pointers on procrastinating.

Thought Catalog posted a list of some of the better methods of procrastinating which, candidly, I wouldn't have found time to write about if I didn't have more serious things I should be writing about right now – like cyberwar and why all the leading virtualization vendors are completely different but all hit the same criteria in all the analysts' product-ranking lists.

If you still work in an office, some of these won't apply to you, at least not all the time; at least not when the boss can see what's on your screen.

They will all apply, with a vengeance, if you're one of the increasingly large number of people who work contract or freelance from home (on purpose or because your former employers wanted to be responsible enough with the HR budget to keep their jobs by eliminating yours).

An(other) aside:

Just in the interest of giving fair time to both sides, BrainPickings has a piece on refenestrating your brain and your ambition when both have already gone out the window.

The most useful is a two-year-old guide called The Cult of Done by Bre Pettis, founder of MakerBot, which manufactures 3D printers that are the closest thing we have right now to Star Trek matter replicators, though they don't appear able to make Earl Gray tea.

The Cult of Done is a quickie writeup of "truisms of hacker culture" as BrainPickings put it, though the list has to be a fairly old one.

It doesn't include what seems to be the dominant guideline in hacker culture right now: "Attack evil corporate site; steal credit card numbers of noncombatants; post on a public site you will promote heavily the CC#s, names, addresses, prior criminal histories, sexual perversions and moral weaknesses of customers whose accounts you raided to show the Evil Corporation how abusive it is to the common people."

Of the Cult of Done aphorisms, these are the coolest:

  • People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
  • Laugh at perfection. It's boring and keep you from being done.
  • Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
  • Destruction is a variant of done.
  • Done is the engine of More.

Because writers are compelled while writing about productivity to both try to be productive and compulsively represent themselves that way, ThoughtCatalog's Brandon Scott Gorrell wondered in his intro why humans are so good at procrastinating.

The answer is obvious from the methods we use – especially long and pointless Internet searches that lead us from place to place always promising the information we want but never giving it to us.

It's a combination of the persistence of hunter-gatherers who know they won't eat if they don't keep digging in the dirt to find that extra tuber or nice juicy game animal.

The tendency to procrastinate takes that persistence – the same thing that keeps you on task and productive when you want to get out of the office on time or know you could get fired for slacking off – and warps it with misplaced hope and a dose of denial that lets you ignore real priorities to focus on the process of the hunt, rather than its goals.

That's why people who gamble, fish or buy and fix computers keep coming back to the site of their previous disappointments. They figure one more cast with a new lure will bring in the fish they've been hoping for; that a set of new dice or new hand of cards will be a big winner.

Or they hope one of the million configuration changes they've made, scripts they've written or million software updates from Microsoft and Adobe alone will either finally fix the broken system or destroy it altogether so they can finally give up on it and go home.

(The tendency toward working hard on something completely irrelevant is so strong that even when you're writing a one-sentence blog item pointing to a really concise list of ways people procrastinate, you may find yourself, a dozen paragraphs later, nattering on about unsubstantiated metaphysical-anthropology theories rather than just putting in the link and getting on with your life.)

As I was saying, few of us need much instruction in how to procrastinate, but most of us can use a list of the ways we might find ourselves procrastinating without realizing what we're doing.

Recognizing the symptoms may not help you pull yourself out of an engaging search spiral before it does any damage, but there's always some misplaced hope and denial of our previous experience to say that it might.

Just remember when you see yourself doing any of these, notice it blandly and keep on going because obviously whatever you're focused on isn't that irrelevant and you'll be finished and back on task in just a second anyway. Or you could pull out immediately and go back to work.

Here's the concise list. The source page has more detail and even estimates of how much time you might find yourself wasting. Needless to say the numbers underestimate by an order of magnitude the ability of a really dedicated and experienced Internet user to lose entire days in a haze of http.

A list of highly effective ways to procrastinate

  • Decide to prepare an elaborate meal.
  • Please yourself (mostly means volitional or curiosity-driven web searching, but includes the NSFW-site-tunnel that could waste your day and get you fired at the same time.
  • Clean stuff that doesn't need cleaning (are there such things when you're on deadline?)
  • Willingly travel into an Internet Tunnel – purposeful, non-pr0n drifting in the digital Doldrums.
  • Sign into chat and Facebook and let everyone else know you're wasting your day.
  • Use just enough critically important chemicals to make work impossible (just try doing financial scenario-planning with a head full of rhinovirus and heavy antihistamine/decongestant/cough suppressant combinations. Brandon Scott Gorrell – today's guide to nowhere at Thought Catalog – recommends less OTC chemistry as a more effective way to stretch the day-waste out to two or three days. I'm over 30; I don't have enough time left for that.)
  • Decide to buy something you were only debating; dive into Internet Shopping Tunnel for research; do not emerge.
  • Answer unimportant emails that have collected in your inbox for weeks. It's only polite to respond, right? Even to Important questions from 2004?

Here at the end of a way-too-long blog that was supposed to be a one-sentence joke-link post, it's obvious I have a much stronger affinity for productive (but contextually irrelevant) procrastination than I assumed at the beginning.

I'm also good at ignoring my own advice, by not recognizing and re-routing an elaborate detour around the task at hand.

Take a lesson from my bad example. Stick to a few tasks, get them done. Go home. Conduct your life.

I hear it works a lot better that way. I plan to try it myself. Eventually.

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