Understanding ‘Productive Procrastination’ And How Can It Help Beat Perfectionism

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Feb. 22 2024, Published 8:00 a.m. ET

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I’m a perfectionist, and almost subsequently, a procrastinator, too. So when I first heard about the term “productive procrastination,” I sighed and added a new term to the list of adjectives one might potentially use to introduce oneself. 

People who have a strong desire not to mess anything up is their Achilles heel in that they hold themselves to such high standards and when they are unable to meet them, they freeze. They have a hard time finishing their tasks, which ultimately can lead to burnout. While perfectionism can guide high-quality work, it can also lead to procrastination and difficulty in completing tasks. I know this from personal experience.

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Source: Unsplash

Hence, the term “productive procrastinator” intrigued me, as it seemed to be a contradiction. However, it is a phenomenon that many people experience without even knowing. It describes the ability to use procrastination as a tool for productivity and involves putting off one task in favor of another more pressing task. This can result in greater productivity. In such cases, it is essential to break down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, and set more realistic goals.

“Productive procrastinations replace one adaptive behavior with another adaptive—albeit less important—behavior (e.g., organizing notes instead of studying for an exam),” according to the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 

So, here are the three benefits that I took from this approach after reporting my practice:

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1. It facilitates progress instead of procrastination.

In my test of this behavior, this weekend, I decided to deal with a project I had been avoiding because I was scared I wouldn’t meet my high standards: writing a newsletter for the nonprofit I collaborate with. Instead of jumping right into the big task, I chose to tidy up my workspace and organize my laptop folders—less important projects, but still helpful.

This was just preparing myself to tackle the main project with a clearer mind and more efficiency by minimizing distractions and doing one thing at a time. If you ask me, I believe this is a fantastic approach to productivity as it focuses on progress rather than perfection. This mindset shift can help us see the value in imperfect action and give ourselves permission to make mistakes and learn from them.

2. It breaks the perfectionism paralysis.

Perfectionism is multidimensional, and while for some people (myself included) it might help achieve their goals, it’s also the cause of high stress and anxiety levels. That’s why this productive procrastination approach sounds like the perfect balance between doing and not doing anything.

Sometimes, it is better to take some form of action than to take no action at all. By embracing the notion that imperfection is a natural part of the process, people can break through this paralysis and embark on a journey of continuous improvement without risking burnout.

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“Moderate procrastination can foster creativity when people have the intrinsic motivation and opportunity to generate new ideas,” as stated by researchers Jihae Shin and Adam Grant in When Putting Work Pays Off: The Curvilinear Relationship Between Procrastination and Creativity. As a self-described productive procrastinator, I realized that this is just another way to cope with daily life tasks that may seem daunting at first but that, one way or another, we need to tackle to move on to the next responsibility.

3. It boosts emotional well-being.

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Source: Unsplash


In a world where productivity is often synonymous with perfection, embracing a mindset that prioritizes progress over flawlessness is a refreshing paradigm shift. Productive procrastination becomes a tool not just for meeting deadlines but for cultivating an environment that nurtures well-being and celebrates the journey, imperfections, and all.

Engaging in productive procrastination facilitates progress and goal achievement and contributes to improved emotional well-being. I have experienced reduced stress levels and an enhanced sense of satisfaction by focusing on incremental progress and allowing for imperfections in my day-to-day tasks. This mental shift fosters a healthier relationship with work, life, and long-term well-being.

So, the next time you find yourself tempted to procrastinate, consider doing it like this—your future self might just thank you for it.

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By: Luisana Rodríguez

As a psychology major and bilingual content writer, Luisana finds joy by researching about lifestyle and wellness topics as well as mental health related content. If she's not writing, she's probably planning brunch dates, cooking up some TikTok recipes, or looking for a new online course to take.

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