Pitfalls of ‘Productive Procrastination’

(Originally published to the Cornell Alumni Magazine Student Blog on Oct. 26, 2012.)

Procrastination is the vice of every college student I know. The urge to spend hours watching YouTube videos of laughing babies, playing Tetris, or napping can be very strong when your other option is writing a twenty-page paper on whale communication.

But what about neglecting one assignment in favor of another? Or cleaning your room and editing your resume instead of finishing your required reading? In these instances, you’re doing something useful with your time—just not necessarily what you ought to be doing at that moment. This is the essence of what I call “productive procrastination” and, unfortunately, I’m a pro at it.

My struggle with productive procrastination has gotten much more difficult to manage since becoming an upperclassman. Because I’m involved in so many activities and have a more rigorous course load, I can always think of at least ten things I could be working on, in place of what I should be working on.

The fact that productive procrastination can sometimes be justified makes it quite the conundrum. First off, it’s exponentially better than unproductive procrastination (doing something useless). And in some situations, productive procrastination can actually be appropriate. For example, if you’re stuck on an assignment you could benefit from taking a break, working on something else, and returning to it with a fresh perspective.

That being said, one thing to keep in mind about productive procrastination is that, however you slice it, it’s still procrastination. So even though you may be able to reorganize your closet, map out your five-year career plan, or write a short story in the time you took off from your assignment, be warned: that whale paper will still be waiting for you. Only now, you’ll have even less time to finish it.

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