Productive procrastination isn’t as much of an oxymoron as you may think

My story of productive procrastination might make that lab report easier to finish

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Zachary Forstot is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

Anav Singh | Cavalier Daily

When I Googled “productive procrastination” to find a scholarly definition for this term, the search results were, unsurprisingly, not too helpful. No one seems to agree on whether or not productive procrastination is a good thing. In fact, the top search result is an article warning against believing that you’re really being productive. The second result is an article praising productive procrastination as possibly good for you.

I choose to side with the latter article’s positive treatment of productive procrastination. I’ve always had a bad case of the procrastination bug — I’ll browse Wikipedia, Twitter or Reddit for way too long — and I always feel bad for being stuck in the same rut that made me procrastinate in the first place. I feel just as unmotivated as when I first took my break. But what is there to do during my study breaks that can both improve my mood and make me more productive?

Enter dirty dishes.

That’s right, washing my dirty dishes. It might be one of the most soothing activities I can think of. It feels amazing to have clean, hot water streaming continuously over my hands while I clean bits of food off dirty plates. Although some dishes require a little elbow grease, I am always satisfied to see them all lined up on the drying mat. The only part I don’t like about the whole process is putting the dishes away, but probably because I don’t get to run my hands under any therapeutic hot water.

I think that non-productive procrastination, like browsing social media, is rarely beneficial for my own study habits. I return to my work after my break still dreading the what remains. Moreover, neither my eyes nor my limbs get any relief from sitting in my seat transitioning from computer to phone and back to computer. A quick Google search for “medical benefits to doing dishes” yields infinitely more results than a search for “medical benefits of staring at my phone for 10 minutes.” 

But it doesn’t take a BuzzFeed writer’s advice to convince me that my sort of productive procrastination is a better way to spend my time. The best part about it is coming back to my work, awash with relief and in a better mood. Relief comes from that nagging feeling I’ve started getting when I leave dirty dishes around, and I attribute that feeling to my new productive procrastination habit. The better mood comes from that beautiful distraction that is doing dishes because I get a tiny bit of exercise, a pleasant feeling for my skin and a kitchen that looks much better than it did a few minutes ago.

Furthermore, getting in the habit of regularly cleaning the kitchen has led to some more cleaning around my house, ranging from sweeping to wiping off the counters. The original benefit of this productive procrastination has had a positive externality that I could not have imagined when I first started doing it. 

Now if you’re sitting in the library while reading this — well firstly, thank you. Secondly, you too are procrastinating instead of working on your homework. And I guess this article won’t apply to you since you don’t have access to a sink — unless you have some tupperware you can wipe clean in the library’s bathroom. However, I think the overall idea I’m presenting here, while not wholly original, is universally applicable and something to keep in mind whenever you’re doing work that you don’t want to do. 

Get up, stretch your legs, go for a walk through the library stacks, call your friend or go for a stroll to the Lawn — anything to get you up out of your seat and experience a bit of the world away from a computer screen. When you sit back down, your lab report won’t be any closer to being finished, but hopefully it will be a lot easier to write. 

Zachary Forstot is a Life Columnist at The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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