You might think the idea of “productive procrastination” is a joke.
But read this article and you’ll stop laughing.
It turns out wasting time – or at least spending some of it on trivial, nonessential matters – can make you more productive, creative and profitable.
Researchers in Australia found that people who engage in “workplace Internet leisure browsing” are nine percent more productive than their more diligent colleagues who would never, ever think of net-surfing on the job.
Similarly, behavioral scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara found that “engaging in simple external tasks that allow the mind to wander may facilitate creative problem solving.”
Whoa! Who knew that watching YouTube cat videos or playing computer solitaire could in fact be the most productive parts of the workday?
Waste Not, Want Not
The operative phrase here is “allow the mind to wander.”
For reasons that even neuroscientists can’t fully explain, we tend to perform better when we give our brains a little break now and then by doing something that is, well, mindless. It’s sort of like hitting the “refresh” button on your web browser.
A group of deep-thinkers at Carnegie Mellon and Northeastern University wanted to find out why this is so. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) to track the brain activity of subjects when engaged in (a) conscious thought and (b) unconscious thought.
What they found was that “the neural regions responsible for unconscious thought continue to process previously recorded information, which results in unconscious decision-making that can be called up to consciousness when needed.”
In ordinary language, that means we’re capable of paying rapt attention to one thing (cat videos) while resolving another (complex math problems). The brain keeps cooking while we’re still looking.
Which is good news for anyone addicted to Angry Birds or Candy Crush.
Take a Hike and Win Your Next Case
One caveat: when it comes to distractions, not all of them are created equal. The best types – meaning ones that can actually recharge your battery instead of draining it – share some things in common:
- They are brief, no more than 30 minutes.
- They are totally unlike the task you are concentrating on.
- They come with little or no risk or adverse consequences.
- They offer some physical or mental side-benefit.
That’s why taking a stroll around the block – or better yet, a walk in the woods – is a wonderful distraction. It removes you from the task at hand and gets your blood flowing. It is literally a breath of fresh air.
Popular Ways to Procrastinate Productively
The blog Life Hacker asked its readers to submit their favorite methods of productive procrastination. Here are some of their responses:
- Learn a new hobby
- Learn a new language
- Work on a fun side project
- Read a trashy book
- Wash clothes
- Iron clothes
- Cook a meal
- Draw cartoons
- Take out the trash
- Read about electrical engineering
- Learn lyrics to a new song
- Knit or crochet
- Color your hair, clip your nails or give yourself a foot massage
- Organize your desk
- Play the harmonica
- Read blog comments
Do you engage in productive – or unproductive – procrastination? Tell us how you do it.
- Nautilus http://nautil.us/issue/7/waste/how-to-waste-time-properly
- Life Hacker http://lifehacker.com/the-best-ways-to-waste-time-productively-1627147022
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man has practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.