The productive procrastination bin

While many productivity experts religiously follow the “only touch it once” system for document management, I’m more of a “touch it as few times as necessary” system follower. There are simply times when touching a paper only once is unrealistic for me — the mail will arrive while I’m on a phone call or I need to really mull something over before responding.

To handle these touch-more-than-once documents, I have a (gasp!) procrastination bin on my desk. Actually, it’s a basket that hangs from a shelf, but “hanging procrastination basket” just doesn’t have the same catchy name factor as the straightforward “procrastination bin.”

I have certain rules for what can and can’t go into the procrastination bin. The bin isn’t a dumping ground for things I don’t want to do or a spot for papers that need to be filed. It’s a designated area for things that can’t or shouldn’t be dealt with right now.

Qualities that make it okay for a document to go in the procrastination bin:

  • It can fit. If the procrastination bin is full, nothing more can go inside of it and the document must be processed immediately. There is no squishing, fancy folding, or clever engineering to fit more inside the bin than what it was designed to contain.
  • There are no consequences for procrastinating. If putting off the task will cause me stress, cause someone else frustration, or has a nearly immediate deadline, the document cannot go into the bin.
  • Time is scheduled on the calendar for when to do it. When a paper goes into the bin, an entry must be made on the calendar for when to properly process the paper. Nothing can go into the bin and be forgotten.
  • Procrastinating might be better than taking care of it right now. There are times when not taking immediate action is actually the best thing to do. The procrastination bin is perfect for these types of documents.
  • The bin is small. I purposefully purchased the hanging basket that is made of wide mesh and isn’t very large. It can only be used for papers, and I’m not tempted to use it for items other than paperwork. It has a dedicated purpose and limited functionality.

In addition to the rules I have for the procrastination bin, I also have 30 minutes blocked off on my calendar each month to re-evaluate everything that is in the bin. Even with other dates on the calendar to process each paper, I’ve found that this 30 minutes will often take care of some of the items earlier than planned. I always schedule this 30 minute evaluation to occur right after lunch when my concentration levels are low. I realized that it’s better to use this time in a somewhat productive manner than waste it staring off into space, zoning out.

15 Comments for “The productive procrastination bin”

  1. posted by Thekla Richter on

    Great idea… I love the flexibility and accountability in this system. Honestly, I wonder whether it’s really procrasinating. You’ve put an appointment for it on your calendar, don’t put time-sensitive things in there and review the whole batch monthly… sounds like smart processing to me!

  2. posted by Max Leibman on

    I like the idea a lot–especially the built-in failsafe of “if it’s full, nothing more can go inside.” Reminds me of a similar idea from David Allen: “How do you process your Read & Review stack? When it falls over, you throw it away.” Such practical physical constraints elegantly disarm the lies tell ourselves about how much we can do (and how much we will eventually “get around to”).

    That said, I will quibble with your language a bit: if there are no consequences for procrastinating and procrastinating might be better, then are you really procrastinating? While the dictionary defines procrastination to mean delay, psychologists define it to mean a delay something you need or want to do when the delay carries consequences (Psychologist/procrastination researcher Timothy Pychyl is the one who introduced me to this idea). I think it’s a useful distinction to make–if you excuse the delays that aren’t going to hurt you, that’s fine; if you excuse the delays that aren’t going to hurt you and also call them the same name as the delays that do hurt (procrastination), then you’re blurring the lines between the okay and not-okay categories.

    But that said, I still like the idea. And maybe calling it “procrastination” would help it work in a cheeky way, as you get to feel like you’re getting away with procrastinating something when making what is really a strategic delay.

  3. posted by Dawn F. on

    I think my in-laws have a Procrastination House – instead of just a bin…

  4. posted by Kate on

    When I worked in an office/government environment, I had a “BF File” (“Bring Forward”). It was usually an accordian file, or a drawer in the file cabinet, with 31 dated spaces, and sometimes 12 months as well. Anything that was to be done at a future time had “BF April 21” written in pencil on the top corner, and filed under “21”, or under “April” if that was a future month.

    Every day, I looked in the BF file and put everything under that date into my in-box. At the end of every month, I moved the next month’s BFs up into the numbered slots, and gave it a once-over to make sure nothing had been mis-filed or was just being constantly re-dated and put off. *grin*

    That was a great system. I need to do that here at home. I’ll get right on that… as soon as I find a space in my home that will fit a file cabinet… sigh…

  5. posted by chacha1 on

    Unfinished business makes me nervous. I tend to keep things “out” until I can deal with them, and since I hate to have stuff “out,” I tend to deal with things fast. My to-do list travels with me at all times!

    Maybe if I didn’t work in an office (aka ten+ hours a day is not my own time to distribute) it would be different. But for those who work at home, something like this is a really good system.

    I’d probably just call it a Staging Bin, though. It’s not as if it’s stuff you’re actively ignoring (which is how I define procrastination). πŸ™‚

  6. posted by Rue on

    I have one of these at work. It’s for paperwork that I can’t process yet – delivery paperwork that I have no invoice for, have to ask a supervisor about it before I can bill it, etc. I do process it as soon as I get the information I need though. πŸ™‚

    I also can’t follow the “touch it once” rule. When I’m at work, all the paperwork has to be touched several times – to bring it in from the driver’s room, to sort it out and fax it to the customers, to bill it, to attach it to the invoices, to mail it, to file it. As long as the system you use to process paper is efficient and works well, how many times you touch paper is irrelevant!

  7. posted by Lilliane P on

    I like the idea of calling it a staging bin as well. Sort of an office version of the mise-en-place in cooking.

  8. posted by Motivational radio » Procrastination on

    […] The productive procrastination bin | Unclutterer […]

  9. posted by Zengirl on

    I did not know there was an item called procrastination bin, I am afraid, for some people it can become procrastination room or house if they are not careful, (as Dawn F. said) πŸ™‚

  10. posted by Aisha on

    I actually came to the site instead of just continuing to read in my feed reader just to make the comment that Max Leibman made above: if your delay is strategic, then it’s not procrastination. And like him, that idea was really brought home to me by Tim Pychyl who does a fantastic podcast about procrastination.

    I like the idea of having a place for things that are being deliberately and strategically deferred. Procrastination is too powerful a negative force in my life for me to be able to label it a procrastination bin and have it continue to be useful.

  11. posted by DanGTD on

    Great idea.

    Loose ends and unfinished business is probably the thing that squanders our productivity the most.

  12. posted by Stephanie Smirnov on

    Great post thought I agree with several commenters above.It doesn’t seem quite like procrastinating to choose mindfully to park some items to the side with a scheduled time to process them. I have a “pending” inbox which kind of serves that purpose though I have to say, “procratination bin” is awfully catchy πŸ™‚

  13. posted by Lynn on

    So: your procrastination bin. One purpose. One purpose only. Does that make it a Unitasker? (Hey, it’s Wednesday; I had to ask!)

    I am one of those with a Procrastination House, but I am patiently and productively uncluttering my home and my life. (I was married to a hoarder for 20 years; if you looked at my house now, it might make you crazy, but I compare it to my former circumstances, and I just smile and use something up or wear it out or pass it on to somebody who needs it.)

    Love the blog. It inspires and encourages me.

  14. posted by Paul on

    I’m still trying to persuade my other half that there should be 1 (one) inbox and that all paperwork should go in it then be processed and filed elsewhere. It appears that in our house ad-hoc procrastination bins (stacks) have been created in at least a dozen locations – every so often I go around the house when I can’t stand it any more and collate the piles, riffle through them and remove obviously dead stuff, take letters out of envelopes etc, recycle the dead stuff and put the whole pile on the desk where it belongs, so that it has to be looked at. A common question around here is ‘where is ‘ or ‘have you seen ‘ or (recently) frantic rushing around trying to find a vital piece of paper without success – it materialised a week later, in one of the procrastination stacks, when I did my latest collation pass.

    Me? I have a separate home office, with one (1) inbox, a relatively clear desk and all of my incoming stuff goes in the inbox!

  15. posted by— Open Loops 4/27/2010: Articles I Think Worth Passing Along— on

    […] has a great idea called “the productive procrastination bin”. It’s basically a place where things can sit for a while, with a few rules. I love the rules […]

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