We’ve all been there. A project you committed to is due tomorrow. You know that, with concentrated effort, you could knock it out in a couple hours. Yet, somehow you manage to put it off.
Instead, you fill the time with busy work, things that could easily wait until next week. Or you indulge in completely unproductive things like scrolling through Facebook videos or checking out Google Street View caught-on-camera highlights.
If you’re guilty of procrastination tactics like these, take heart. According to New York Times bestselling author Adam Grant, procrastination is a virtue for creativity. In his book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Grant explains how procrastination encourages divergent thinking.
“Our first ideas, after all, are usually our most conventional,” Grant explains. “When you procrastinate, you’re more likely to let your mind wander.” Research shows that we have a better memory for incomplete tasks. When we finish a project, our brain files it away. But when it’s floating in limbo, our brains continue working it.
Nearly a century ago, psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik found that when we finish a project, we file it away. But when it’s in limbo, it stays active in our brains. From writers like Aaron Sorkin (“You call it procrastinating. I call it thinking.”) to artists like Leonardo Di Vinci (took 16 years to complete the Mona Lisa), highly creative people spend most of the creative process in pre-production.
Instead of thinking of procrastination as a vice, think of it as an essential part of creativity. Consider these three ways you can use procrastination to your advantage:
1. To exercise your idea muscles. Give yourself permission to build white space in your day. White space will allow you to reflect — to turn information into knowledge and knowledge into insight.
2. To find the power in the question. Good strategic thinkers know how to hit the ‘what if’ pause button. It forces you to step back and challenge current assumptions that prevent you from seeing breakthrough solutions.
3. To move from quantity to quality. While you don’t have the luxury to mull over every piece of text you write before you hit ‘send’, some ideas are worth polishing.
Let’s be honest. Chronic procrastination is not healthy. If you have excuses for letting most deadlines pass, that’s a bad habit you need to address and correct.
But true insight takes time. The longer we allow our brains to work on ideas, the more insight we can gain. Don’t be afraid to harness the creative power of procrastination.
Question: When has procrastination helped you be more creative?
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