Sophisticated Procrastination. And, How to avoid it?

Playing the meta game and not the actual game is another form of procrastination.

This entry is part 9 of 9 in the series Productivity System - Myths and Mistakes

Playing the Meta Game and not the actual game is another form of procrastination

Procrastination comes in many shapes and sizes. Most of them are apparently bad, yet some of them don’t look like procrastination.

Sophisticated Procrastination is hiding the procrastination by doing the things around the work but not exactly doing the actual work. Thus getting a sense of false fulfillment by doing them.

Working around the work? What is it?

Work requires one thing, and that is doing that. Taking action to complete it. Maybe in some cases a little planning or research. A little and necessary amount of research is good.

Scenarios like Planning on how to do the work, calculating all the possibilities, buying proper tools/apps for it, searching for multiple methods to execute it, setting up a system for similar work that may or may not come in the future, analyzing the different approaches, mentally calculating the accuracy of outcome in different possibilities, worrying about the influence of the environment, tweaking the parameters of external environment before working on the actual work, building a system before starting work, trying different systems for perfection, looking out for different strategies used by other popular figures or experts, etc, etc.

This is called the Meta Game. 1 (No, not the Facebook company)

Sophisticated Procrastination involves focusing on the Meta Game (the game about the game) but not on the actual game.

Out of 100 tasks we carry out, only 2 to 5 tasks need very good strategic planning. Those few, novel projects need planning, approach, and strategy.

Why do we do this?

Maybe fear of failure (in some cases) to act on the task or project. Over aspiration to perfection. (Leaning more on using the perfect system, methods, and strategies instead of believing in your abilities.) and many more. You know them from your personal experience.

But the actual reason is,

You want to avoid the guilty feeling of procrastination. And you get a sense of (false) fulfillment by doing this. Sophisticated procrastination creates the feeling that you’re actually working on the task while you’re not. The apparency is deceiving here.

People who look for the best productivity methods, best productivity systems, and best personal knowledge management systems fall into this category if they do it frequently.

Note: Check Tools Repo where I listed the most useful methods, mental models, and systems to start with. (It gets updated frequently, so Subscribe to my newsletter, Snippetter to be on track with the top 1% achievers)

How to avoid this?

You can avoid procrastinating sophisticatedly by changing your mindset. The following mindset may help you.

Mindsets

Prioritise “Progress over Perfection”.

Allow your products to have 20% imperfections and ship them immediately. Allow yourself to be a little imperfect. Read my article on Pareto Hack to understand why you don’t have to cover the last 20%.

Sharpen your axes, but sharpening them is not the job. It is not even part of the job.

Remember, Anything that doesn’t complete the task is not work. Do not consider preparation as work. It is just a warm-up.

Some actionable steps

No need to waste your precious time searching for the perfect system, perfect methodologies, and the perfect approach. It doesn’t exist. When trying new methods, use them in actual work.

Build a (productivity) system while you work on a project (on it) and tweak them as your work needs. Do not wait for a system or method to get perfect. Just start your work.

If you’re strategically planning your projects, stay away from your tools and apps. Meditate on it at a separate time. Always keep in mind, you didn’t start the work yet. Keeping your tools away helps you focus on planning the work, instead of getting caught up in the process of tweaking your tools and methods.

Write down your strategy, instead of overthinking it. (This piece of step helped me hugely in avoiding sophisticated procrastination). Writing gives you clarity.

For Small Projects

For small projects and tasks, plan roughly. Do not overcomplicate your plans. Just change them on the go. All you need is flexibility in your plan or method or system to adapt to changes on the go.

In short, don’t wait for the changes to come. Adapt to them as they come by. Don’t try to build a bulletproof mechanism to defend all the changes you expect to come in the process (which usually don’t come in reality or come very less frequently).

Do not focus more than necessary on the probability of failures and don’t try to address them all.

For Repeating Projects

The biggest lesson for me is, a process can’t be perfected when I run through it for the first time. It takes many iterations to perfect them. Improve your process by 1% each time you do a particular work. For example, my writing process is almost got super fine-tuned in the process of writing more than 100 articles in the past year. Just let your work build the system on its own. I couldn’t create a good writing workflow at the start. I had one, but it never worked for me. I wasted almost a month on finding the best writing method.

When I started to focus on writing (writing only) everything falls into the place. Now I build the process in the flow and improved it in subsequent iterations.


  1. Metagame, hypergame, or game about the game, is an approach to a game that transcends or operates outside of the prescribed rules of the game, uses external factors to affect the game, or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game. – Wikipedia
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