Productive Procrastination - Why you should have Side Projects

I stumbled on the idea of productive procrastination, which flips the tables of what it means to be taking a break.

Productive Procrastination - Why you should have Side Projects

Productivity is sometimes made to feel like you must be accomplishing something all the time in order to be maximising your time, being efficient and effective bla bla bla...

I love productivity, but I don't fully agree that procrastination is the thing to avoid.

I love the idea of productive procrastination. I first read it in the book by Austin Kleon, Steal Like An Artist. This is the idea that its good to have a few side projects that you can then move between them when you are tired of working one.

Here's a snippet:

“One thing I’ve learned in my brief career: It’s the side projects that really take off. By side projects I mean the stuff that you thought was just messing around. Stuff that’s just play. That’s actually the good stuff. That’s when the magic happens.

I think it’s good to have a lot of projects going at once so you can bounce between them. When you get sick of one project, move over to another, and when you’re sick of that one, move back to the project you left. Practice productive procrastination.”

Let's not paint procrastination - the act of delaying and postponing a task - as necessarily bad. Sure, it can lead to time wasting, YouTube rabbit holes and hours of internet surfing.

But procrastination does have benefits, such as leading to better ideas for one.

Being productive isn't being anti-procrastination.

I resonate with what Austin is saying here about productive procrastination, that you switch beween projects until they are done.

To me, it represents procrastination by creating rather than consuming.

Now, notice the nuances in that I'm not saying consuming is bad. Useful and intentional breaks are important - like media, books, podcasts, videos and the like when we are 'procrastinating'. The difference is one of focus, that there is an intentional effort to shift from working on one project to another. To stop creating in one to start creating in another.

Rather than taking a break to consume, take a break to create.

I thought this is brilliant, and that means a few things:

  • Have multiple projects you are currently working on, which includes collecting and documenting stuff you can review later.
  • Schedule intentional idleness (another Austin Kleon phrase) to take breaks where you do nothing. Then consume all you want.
  • Create something analog - play your guitar, sketch and doodle, work on crafting your latte art. Something that you use your hands for. Move away from screens.

Another book I really want to read is Deep Work by Cal Newport. I think the ideas to focus and go deep on one project or task is really important, and I wonder how it would wrestle with this idea of bouncing between projects.

It all starts with your belief system

Now, like many of you I too have struggled with procrastination. That's what got me hooked into learning productivity in the first place.

I tend to do things last, when I should have done it first.

What I realize most times that I do procrastinate, is that I don't have anything else to bounce to. My bad habit of procrastination via 'internet research', clicking links one after another or watching video after video on YouTube.

Starting this website and having a goal to write daily, has given me the side project I needed to stay focused and I hope, productive. It is because I am casting a vote for myself as a writer, the identity that I want to become, that helps me avoid procrastinating.

I now have a creative outlet rather than a consuming outlet.

It is my belief that once you have determined the identity of the person you want to become, deciding on the side project becomes much easier. You can start with that and read James Clear's really good article about it here.

If you want to follow my journey on the 30 Days to Better Habits, my Twitter thread is below where I document all my reflections.