Confession: before I sat down to write this post, I hopped up and made myself a cup of coffee. Then I posted a couple images to my Instagram stories. Just when I thought I was ready to settle in and start writing, I remembered a text message that needed a response. And finally – here we are. There’s no doubt that procrastination is something all of us struggle with from time to time, but recent research shows that maybe that’s not a bad thing! I’d always adopted conventional wisdom that says tackling projects immediately is the way to go, but turns out, there’s often a case for prioritizing play before work, and especially with projects that require creative thinking, allowing ourselves more time to mull it over could result in more original work. Keep reading for the evidence, and I’d love to hear in the comments how you feel about the procrastination issue: Is it something you’re trying to overcome… or like me, are you trying to let a little more procrastination make its way into your life?
*featured image: lazy oaf
source: the coveteur
First, I’ve got to give credit to Adam Grant’s book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, for opening my eyes to this topic and inspiring many of the ideas I touch upon in this post. Chapter four of that book, called “Fools Rush In,” makes a compelling case for procrastination, but is quick to specify that it’s strategic procrastination we should be doing more of. He tells the story of Martin Luther King, Jr., waiting to pen his I Have a Dream Speech until late the night before, then continuing to tweak and refine it until the moment he walked on stage. While many people might have considered it irresponsible to seemingly wait until the last minute, King had actually been mentally preparing himself for months leading up to the speech, by seeking advice from advisors, gathering feedback, challenging his team to come up with the absolute best ideas, and allowing those ideas to mature in his mind before actually putting pen to paper. As a result, he drafted a speech that was wholly original and probably deeper and more meaningful than if he’d gone with his very first idea and written the speech months in advance. Says Grant, “Parents and teachers are constantly imploring children to begin their assignments earlier instead of waiting until the last minute. In the self-help world, an entire cottage industry is devoted to fighting procrastination. But what if the very act of procrastination was the reason that King gave the best speech of his life?
source: a merry mishap
I admit, procrastination has never been one of my major vices. I love checking tasks off my to-do list, and find that I only feel I can relax after I’ve accomplished any big projects looming on the horizon. But is my desire to be productive causing me to respond prematurely? Rather than volleying that email back to the sender right away, should I let it marinate, allowing my subconscious mind to sort through the issue and ultimately respond in a more creative way?
source: dress up buttercup
In Originals, Grant also makes a case for procrastination’s ability to make us better improvisors when the occasion calls for it. “When we plan well in advance, we often stick to the structure we’ve created, closing the door to creative possibilities that might spring into our fields of vision.” I can definitely see that in my own life, usually in my quest to be more “efficient.” If I like the first or second headline I come up with for a blog post, I’m likely to go with it in an effort to move on to the next task. But I wonder what would happen if I allowed myself more time to mull things over. Would my best idea be the one that comes to me later while I’m driving or taking a shower? According to Grant, giving ourselves permission to procrastinate makes us more flexible in changing our strategies when new opportunities present themselves.
source: Jordynn Buehner for Makenna Alyse
The key to procrastination is that it can be a gateway to creativity and better problem solving if used in a strategic way. The procrastination stage can be an incubator for testing ideas, researching your topic, and discussing with others before diving into actually doing the work.
All of this begs the question: am I rushing myself through the important processes of problem-solving in an effort to be productive? Or am I pushing myself to be truly creative? I’m starting to think that I need to discipline myself to slow down and get comfortable with uncertainty; that originality is more important – and rewarding – than checking off yet another item on my to-do list.
What do you guys think?