In the workplace, the word ‘procrastination’ usually carries some negative connotations, related to time wasting.

However, ManpowerGroup South Africa’s MD, Lyndy van den Barselaar, believes that procrastination can benefit your career when done in a controlled and strategic way.

“No one person can focus fully for the whole day without taking some breaks to gather and refocus ones mind between tasks and meetings. Essentially, one could call it ‘procrastinating with a purpose’,” she says.

Take a break with a boost

Your brain was not designed to be constantly “on” throughout the day, and you need recurring breaks to replenish your focus on tasks.

Van den Barseleaar notes that your rest can be productive. Rather than spending the time simply scrolling through social media, give your brain a boost by using an app that teaches you a new language, doing a crossword puzzle, listening to a podcast or reading a chapter in a book, for example.

“Search for something that energises you to be more productive later, and develops your existing skill sets right now,” she says.

Set a schedule

Instead of letting your break get the better of you, set a timer to give yourself a designated break time. Tools for your phone or web browser like the Pomodoro app automatically track your time and give you a notification when it’s time to kick back, and when it’s time to work.

Disconnect completely

There’s a temptation to split the difference between productivity and procrastinating when taking a break. You’ll want to respond to a few emails to ease your guilt of putting off that pressing project. In the long run, this will make you less productive.

“Your stores of energy and attention are limited, so when you’re taking a break, you may want to unplug entirely. This will recharge your batteries and you’ll be able to dive into your project refreshed and ready for the challenge,” she says.

Take a walk outside, enjoy a cup of tea or coffee in a quiet space or even practice a short meditation.

Avoid negative self-talk

Felling guilty or shameful about having procrastinated can often lead to even more of the same. Ensure that you are not talking negatively to yourself about taking a break, but rather realising you are having difficulty concentrating on a certain task and asking yourself why.

“It is normal to need regular breaks, or to have days when your focus on a certain task is wavering. Feeling guilty about this often creates negative emotions, which might make it even harder to focus – so it is important to find a balance while still holding yourself accountable,” explains van den Barselaar.

“The key to better habits is based in recognising and working with your natural rhythms, keeping yourself accountable and taking a break with something that can benefit your short and long term goals,” she concludes.