Green Day on Unstructured Procrastination

A few days ago, I cited research stating we should procrastinate by filling our time with productive items from our to-do list. Surprise, surprise. We have research to contradict that.

When Green Day prophetically wrote the song Sassafras Roots, who could have guessed they knew the secret to maximizing time efficiency?

Roaming ’round your house, wasting your time. No obligation, just wasting your time. So why are you alone, wasting your time, when you could be with me wasting your time?

Based upon multiple studies, wasting time has many benefits. A study out of the University of Melbourne found people who engage in “workplace Internet leisure browsing” are 9% more productive than those who don’t. A study from the University in the Netherlands found people tasked with complex decisions do better when they are allowed brief periods of distraction. And research from the University of California concluded that…

…engaging in simple external tasks that allow the mind to wander may facilitate creative problem solving.

Still hesitant to jump onto your fantasy football site? Let’s get scientific. The regions of your brain responsible for unconscious thought continue to process information when your conscious mind is no longer focused on it. Translation: we can pay attention to one thing (your fantasy football trades) while resolving another.

If you’re a chronic (or aspiring) procrastinator, you’ll be happy to learn that these time wasters are most effective when they involve meaningless activities. Effective distractors are those that:

  • are dissimilar from what you’re currently working on. If you’re trying to solve a math problem, don’t procrastinate with Sudoku.
  • embolden you to think about the future and/or inspire a feeling of exploration.
  • do not involve the specifics of your life. Reading irrelevant news articles leads to more productivity than scanning your friends’ Linkedin updates.

So go waste some time. Take breaks to do things unrelated to your work. By the end of the day, you’ll get more done than if you stare at the computer for a straight nine hours. Want to help your co-workers, quote from Green Day when you say, “With nothing else to do, may I waste your time, too?”