Do you ever put off working on a big, challenging project by working on a smaller project? That’s what we would normally call procrastinating — and it can actually be good for you, surprisingly.
According to The Cut’s Melissa Dahl, psychologists call this “structured procrastination,” and it’s not the worst way to spend your time.
While putting off a big assignment by clearing out your email is probably a waste of time, writing the easy part of a school paper, or doing some data entry, or finishing a small assignment before diving into a huge project can be a healthy way to procrastinate.
If you really can’t get yourself to sit down and focus, there are things you can try that might get the ball rolling, like the Pomodoro Technique. This strategy, devised by Francesco Cirillo in the ’80s, involves setting a timer for 25 minutes, focusing on one single task without deviating during that time, and then taking a short break when the timer goes off before getting back to work. After about four of these 25-minute sessions, you can give your brain a longer break before starting the process over again.
If that doesn’t work for you, try this “structured procrastination” technique, devised by the term’s creator, John Perry, in the late ’90s:
“To make structured procrastination work for you, begin by establishing a hierarchy of the tasks you have to do, in order of importance from the most urgent to the least important. Even though the most-important tasks are on top, you have worthwhile tasks to perform lower on the list. Doing those tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, you can become a useful citizen.”
Whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up for tackling less-important tasks first — remember, you’re still getting stuff done.