Last week I forgot to bring a book with me to the Laundromat. What to do so I wasn't wasting that precious wash time looking at old magazines? Why I whipped out my trusty iPhone and looked up one of my favorite will power people, Kelly McGonigal. iPhones are wonderful, by the way. So is the Internet. Don't let anybody make you feel guilty about loving those things.
Anyway, it turns out that McGonigal was interviewed at Life Hacker for a series called How I Work. One of the things she was asked was "What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?" Her response was, "Productive procrastination. Often when I should be writing a chapter or
preparing a talk, I decide instead to do a deep dive on some random
scientific topic..." And that topic may led to her writing articles or starting some sort of project.
I looked at Ira Glass's How I Work interview and saw something similar. At one point, he says, "I procrastinate by working." By which he means he'll look over contracts or make business calls that aren't as important as the writing he needs to be doing.
If I had all the time in the world (ha-ha), I'd skim all the How I Work interviews to see how many of these people talk about productive procrastination.
Now, when you have a big job with a deadline, you have to find a way to stay on task and get through it. However, we're not always on deadline. When McGonigal and Glass are off task, they still manage to crank out a lot of work. What I find interesting is that when they procrastinate, they are not checking out Kate Middleton's maternity clothes or trying to figure out who the actress was who had a nonrecurring role in the TV show they were watching the night before. They are, in McGonigal's case, researching something like "What’s the latest animal research on the brain’s default mode network?" or, in Glass's, doing some other type of work, work that does need to be done. They are both working when they procrastinate. They do something with their procrastination.
The trick here, I think, is to train yourself to work when you just have to take a break from the main event. Writers, particularly published writers who have to market themselves, have plenty of work they can be doing. The problem is making sure that "other" work doesn't then become the main event. You don't want productive procrastination to become an excuse to avoid a major project.