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Procrastination Can Be Productive. Really!

Contrary to what we’ve been taught to believe, procrastination isn’t always a bad thing. Yep, you heard it here first: procrastination can be good if, and only if, you’re thoughtful about it. Procrastination derives from the Latin words “pro” which means “forward” and “crastinus” which means “belonging to tomorrow.” So, if something belongs to tomorrow, and you are planning for it as you would anything else, there’s no need to beat yourself up for letting it actually belong to tomorrow and not today. Make sense?

Creating a productive plan for the day is all about prioritizing today, which necessarily means putting some things off until tomorrow or later. Procrastinating in this mindful, intentional manner will help you in two ways. It will keep you from slicing your time too thinly, and it will protect more urgent tasks from suffering because your attention gets diverted by something that pops up in your inbox that can be done tomorrow.

Some say procrastination is the thief of productivity. I say that if it’s done strategically, it can actually be productivity’s heroine. Here’s how to beat procrastination by being thoughtful about what needs to be done now.

Set big goals with built-in procrastination room

Especially at the beginning of the year, we tend to go balls to the wall with lofty pronouncements about what we will get done in the next 365 days. Resolutions can be helpful in jump-starting your ambitions, but it’s smart to procrastinate on some of those goals as well. It’s better to have something as part of your three- or five-year plan than to put it on the list for year one and then feel disappointed when you don’t achieve it because you were overshooting in the first place.

For the sake of this lesson, let’s say you want to open a chocolate shop.

Plan your next move

If you have the money and means to open a chocolate shop in a few months, do it! But, if you really want to do it right, I suggest setting realistic goals like:

  • Make sure my business plan is airtight.
  • Scale back expenses so that I have nine months of living expenses in the bank.
  • Find an independent health-care option for when I leave my corporate job and lose my benefits.

These smaller, actionable goals will keep you on track toward achieving the big goal of leaving your job altogether.

Think about how your daily tasks support your goals.

Let’s look at those tasks leading up to opening your chocolate shop and think about when they really need to get done.

  • Pick up dry-cleaning. Unless you have no clothes left in your closet, which I find hard to believe, the dry-cleaning can wait.
  • Meet with a cocoa supplier in your area. Meeting with resources and gathering recon toward starting your business is very important, especially if you want to get it off the ground quickly. Do this.

So, if you skip the first task, did you “procrastinate” on picking up your dry-cleaning? Yes. Does that mean you have more time to get ready for your meeting with the cocoa supplier? Yes. And that’s more important to advancing your long-term goals of finding a partner and starting your own business

Crossing everything off your list might feel satisfying, but you’d be letting yourself down in the future — and for what, a few more cathartic checks on a to-do list? Truly working smarter means putting off what can be done tomorrow or even the next day and focusing instead on the quality, not quantity, of tasks you prioritize today. It’s the only way to work less and win more in the long run.

A version of this article was originally published on Entrepreneur.

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