Time of year for positive procrastination

Time management is an important skill for any busy person. There are consultants who make a tidy living by advising companies on how their people can make the most of every minute of the day, how to multi-task, how to delegate and how to prioritise tasks effectively.

But there is the flipside to all this structured textbook efficiency – when the time management obsession goes too far.

Most of us have that one friend who posts endless motivational memes on social media. Sometimes, these memes can add to your stress. One example is the reminder that Einstein, Michelangelo and Thomas Edison had the same number of hours in the day that we all have.

The logic is that if they can go down in history for their remarkable achievements with the standard allocation of 24 hours, we should be able to too. Inevitably, most of us will spot this anxiety-inducing meme in the five minutes of peace and quiet that was squeezed in between deadlines, calls, inbox triage and demands from partners, pets and kids (or all three).

It makes you want to scream, “I bet Einstein never had to take an urgent call from the boss, while sitting in a traffic jam when taking the dog to the vet!”

Amid the noise of our own busy lives and the tough-love motivational messages urging us to perform at 100 per cent 100 per cent of the time, a very important alternate message is lost. That message is that it’s OK to procrastinate sometimes – and sometimes acts that seem like procrastination can be positive and constructive.

Writing for a living is an obvious case for the power of positive procrastination, but this principle can be applied to any job where you need to come up with ideas or solutions. There is a writer’s block equivalent in most industries and sometimes a spot of positive procrastination – taking time out to daydream – is the answer.

Here are some examples of how to make positive procrastination work:

  • Go for a walk: It’s an obvious suggestion, but it can be far too easy to spend all day deskbound. It doesn’t matter if you work from home or you’re in the office, taking a walk is a great way to re-set and look at your tasks with a clear head.
  • Gaze out a window: Step away from your desk and look out a window for little while, ideally in a room away from where you work. Soak up whatever sights you can see from the window, whether it’s a bird in the garden, some people-watching, the weather or a wonderful panorama rather than obsessing about work.
  • Take a controlled social media break: Social media can be a massive time sink, but if you take 15 minutes or so to do some leisurely scrolling, it can be a little holiday for the brain. If you’ve lost a morning to endless spreadsheets, you have earned some time out with cat videos, a quick chat with a friend in Messenger, or a Twitter hashtag game of #ChangeALetterRuinASong. There are even apps to limit your scrolling time, so it becomes a controlled break rather than a lost afternoon.
  • Meditate: Meditation doesn’t have to be a deeply religious experience, although if that works for you, go for it – it is whatever you make it. For some people, a guided meditation is useful, for others, it is a simple matter of stepping away from the world of work, finding a quiet spot and just breathing. The calm that is created through meditation can help you return to work feeling less overwhelmed and more inspired. Check out the blog we wrote about meditation here.

And if anyone tells you that Michelangelo had 24 hours in the day, the same as the rest of us, feel free to tell them that the great artist probably would have been a more chilled-out soul if he took time out for a walk around 16th Century Rome between brushstrokes on the Sistine Chapel.