How To Practice “Productive Procrastination”

Can’t face work? Then cultivate some side projects — and channel your work-avoidance into fun opportunities to learn

Clive Thompson
7 min readJan 26, 2023


A stop sign with two street signs on top of it, entitled “Homework Ave” and “Procrastination Pk”
Photo by Pedro Forester Da Silva on Unsplash

I’m a writer, so I procrastinate.

It’s almost syllogistic, right? I am a writer; all writers procrastinate; therefore, I procrastinate.

There may exist, somewhere, writers who do not procrastinate at all — who never poke around on Wikipedia or social media or Youtube instead of working. But holy moses, I’ve never met one. Every other writer of my acquaintance has the same issues. We all dawdle, delay the beginning of research, and postpone the dreaded act of actually typing sentences until a deadline growls behind us like a spectral wolf.

I wish I could tell you a secret to stop procrastinating. But I can’t, because I know of no cure.

There is, however, one tip I picked up years ago.

It’s not a salve for procrastination — but it is fascinating sort of hack. It won’t stop you from dicking around, but it might help you divert that energy in a more useful direction.

I learned the technique from the engineer, inveterate inventor, and energy expert Saul Griffith. In a post for Make magazine, he described “The Art of Productive



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”.