Not Today, Bikini Bottom: Mindful and Sliced Procrastination

Please Mind the (Procrastination) Gap.

You've already heard me rave about productive procrastination, now let's talk real procrastination.

It's one thing to be cleanin' when you should be writin'. Not great, but not exactly terrible. Procrastinate productively enough and you'll get back on track eventually.

"Martin, it's all fine and dandy, but today's the day when I just can't do anything productively, not even procrastinate! Like, I'm drowning here, man."

Fear not! We all get these days.

Hear me out:

  • Mindful (or managed) procrastination.
  • Procrastination slicing.

That's my way of preventing these kinds of days from spiraling out of control.

Here's how it works.


But let's revisit the productivity spectrum real quick:

The area in the middle is where productivity and procrastination meet. It's divided into productive and mindful procrastination.

Productive procrastination is where you're avoiding the task at hand, but are doing something that's at least remotely useful instead.

There, you have:

  • Mostly productive things: cleaning, working on other projects, making appointments.
  • Mostly procrastinative things: watching somewhat related YouTube videos, playing games mindfully to improve your skill, etc.

Now, what happens when you sink below "mostly procrastinative"?

Yep, that's where you cross the midpoint into the real procrastination territory:

Oh no!

Is all lost? Am I doomed to get sucked into the Black Hole of Procrastination? Go down into the Abyss of Guilty Netflix (and no chill)? Get lost forever in the Dark Playground?

Not so fast! There's still hope. Stay with me.

You have a few things going for you here:

First, not all procrastination is the same. There's a difference between feeling a bit unproductive and feeling like packing up and moving to live inside Instagram.

Second, procrastination starts gradually. You don't instantly go all the way down, so there's time to do something about it.

It's a bit like swimming, actually. When you start drowning you don't immediately go down to Bikini Bottom. But if you don't chill then panic will do that to you.

(I tried drowning once as a kid, don't recommend it.)

Not a swimming advice, but here's the crucial thing to learn in water: floating and staying calm.

If something's wrong, stay calm and float. This gives you a chance to think and decide what to do next. I learned it the hard way, but it's been a lifesaver for me ever since.

So, pause and take a deep breath.

Procrastinating mindfully allows me to stay afloat psychologically. This means plenty of chances to get back on track.

And it's nothing fancy. In my case, procrastinating mindfully means:

  • Keeping track of the time.
  • Being conscious of my thoughts and feelings.
  • Seeing procrastination as a break from productivity.

Sounds simple? It's because it is. Practicing this approach deliberately will make it your default way to procrastinate sooner than you think.

Keeping track of time prevents me from accidentally wasting too much of it.

It's not the end of the world when you check the clock and go "damn, an hour on Reddit already". But it hits different when you realize you've just wasted your whole day actively making yourself worse off.

(And even then, it's still not the end of the world. The next best time to do a useful thing is now, no matter the past.)

Now, being conscious about my thoughts and feelings lets me pause and observe myself for a second once in a while:

  • Am I still feeling meh, but stable?
  • Am I actively drowning and feeling worse?
  • Does procrastinating right now actually make me feel more relaxed?

Just like floating, it's an extra few seconds to evaluate my current state of mind and make a conscious decision about what to do next.

And that's procrastination slicing in a nutshell.

Taken together, these two activities slice my procrastination into shorter segments. And at the end of each segment, I get an opportunity to do something about it:

  • If I'm still feeling meh, I might do a small useful task for a change, switching to productive procrastination.
  • If I'm actively drowning and feeling worse, I'll take a break for a Headspace meditation, or just breathe to collect myself.
  • Or I'll realize I'm relaxed enough to go after a larger productive task.

This way I treat my procrastination as a break from productivity, not vice versa.

Here's what a day of managed procrastination might look like for me:

  • 30m of productivity: Wake up and do my morning routine + exercise.
  • 15m of procrastination: Instead of writing, spend 15m reading the news.
  • 1h of productivity: Write my daily 500 words and publish a Twitter thread.
  • 30m of productivity: Have my breakfast. (It's a productive thing, of course.)
  • 1h of procrastination: Instead of editing my summary of Atomic Habits, spend an hour on Reddit.
  • etc.

At the end of the day, I get something done even on the most unproductive days.

Sure, the actual ratio of productivity to procrastination will vary on different days.

You'll have generally nice days:

And days that aren't that nice:

Sometimes I might find myself jumping between different slices of procrastination without doing anything productive at all:

But you know what's worse?

This:

Cycling through a dozen different procrastination slices in a row still makes me feel better than wasting the whole day in one sitting.

The simple act of managing my procrastination reminds me that I'll always have my decisive moments and my chance to stop.

Even on the worst days, mindful procrastination still keeps me afloat.

Not today, Bikini Bottom.