Procrastination is the bane of many an author’s existence. So, what if I told you that it may not be such a bad thing after all?
The Passive Guy recently alerted me to a post by Quartz, which mentions the work of psychologist Maria Konnikova. In her own words:
The most effective way to tackle a new creative assignment is to put it off for a while. You’re actually doing the smartest and most productive thing in the world if you waste time.
In a 2016 TED talk, Wharton Business School organizational psychologist and self-described “pre-crastinator” Adam Grant argued that moderate procrastination was a necessary habit for original thinkers. “Our first ideas, after all, are usually our most conventional,” he says.
Grant described a study by former student Jihae Shin, which shows that people who played a video game before working came up with more original business ideas than those who immediately put their noses to the grindstone.
The bottom-line: Creative insight needs time to gestate.
If you, too, love procrastinating, you should note that you’re in good company: famous out-of-the-box thinkers like Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King were chronic procrastinators. Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest creative minds in history, took 16 years to finish the Mona Lisa.
Have some perspective
The purpose of procrastinating, says Konnikova, is “to make sure to have perspective before you start working.” To illustrate how such “perspective” works in the creative mind, Konnnikova uses optical illusions: “The way that our vision works is a really good metaphor for the way our brain processes things or more broadly, how creativity works” she explains.
In a layered image by Ocampo, you can see Don Quixote’s portrait flanked by several ghostly faces. Shifting perspective, you see the same “famous ingenious gentleman of La Mancha” astride a horse, with his squire Sancho Panza next to him.
People who take the time to step back and assess each visual puzzle above are more likely to perceive the multiple layers in the images. In the same way, when we’re developing an original idea, a pause gives our brains time to form creative associations, and recognize patterns, or simply see things from a different angle.
But how to spend the extra time pondering, rather than cat-watching on the Internet? Konnikova advised against multi-tasking. Instead, she challenged hyper-connected workers to take purposeful long walks, leaving their mobile devices at home. Even a brief, directionless stroll can dramatically boost creativity.
Read the full post on Quartz for more visual examples!
Interesting idea. It makes a lot of sense.
I hope you feel less guilty now 😉
Oh, I do, but I’d feel a lot less guilty if I was procrastinating on a lovely beach in some exotic locale.
Procrastination level reached: Master 😀
This is pretty much how I work. I have an idea, then I let it sit for a while until it’s ready to come out. Having a deadline can expedite the process, of course, but even then I try to work in time to just let the work sit so I can go back to it and look it over. 🙂
I love it when I can work like that. With the day job it’s real hard, but at least I call my own timetable with writing 🙂
Yes – it’s not really something that can be done too often in the day job, but it’s a wonderful part of the creative writing process 🙂
Well, I think I’m in a fit of procrastination, at the moment, which is really not like me. I hope that at least it will be beneficial 😉
I’m sure it will 🙂
That makes me feel better! I often find doing something else helps me formulate ideas. Going for a walk helps with most things I find. ?
Plus, it allows you to write some great posts afterwards 😀
One does one’s best… ?
I dither around for a good hour before I settle into writing. Now, I must go make that pot of tea before I do anything else. 😀
Tea – that’s why I need! Thanks for the reminder 😀
Yay for me! hahaha Thanks, Nicholas. I needed a little encouragement today. 🙂
Don’t we all! Sorry it took me so long to respond; for some reason Akismet decided you’re a spammer (whaaaat?)
No worries, but that’s strange. I wonder where else that might have happened. I am glad you found me! 🙂
I know. All the rest of your comments were fine! Weird…
Quite. But hopefully it was a singular incident!
Hmmm. I’ll have to think about this post before I comment. Time for a long walk.
Lol – take your time 🙂
I couldn’t agree with this more! You put your brain onto a specific task, then wander off, do something else, and let the idea percolate. It’s crazy what your brain comes up with when you let it run in the background. And then one day you’re halfway through shampooing your hair and you’re like, “Eureka!” Also, long walks are my absolute favorite inspiration source. Especially when there’s no one around and I start talking to myself to pass the time — most of my story ideas I get from there. Excellent post 🙂 I’m off to do some procrastinating right now, lol.
Erm, so there’s a lot of walking around, talking to yourself, is there? Hmm…
I have often been mistaken, whilst out and about on my rambling walks, for a sane person. I mean, an insane person!!!! Whoops. The truth comes out.
Typical Freudian slip. Or sneaker, in your case.
Totally agree. When I feel overwhelmed I walk the rural back roads. Nothing quite calms the brain like nature.
I love both rural back roads and hikes. Walking the dog is the perfect excuse for having them!
Hmmm. I’m not sure I’m convinced, Nicholas. I do think the creative spark often comes from those times when we are busy with other tasks (housework, gardening, taking walks, driving). The distractions are limited and the mind is free to “ponder.” I wouldn’t say that’s procrastination but a time of solitude and introspection when the ideas flow. Perhaps it’s just semantics, because you do warn against cat-watching which is how I usually think of procrastination. This is a great reminder to take time away from the laptop, though, so that creative inspiration has a chance to flower. 🙂
A rose by any other name… 🙂
Makes sense. I’m like a dog who winds round and round before settling in one spot for a snooze. I procrastinate, going around in circles, before I start and then whamo, a thing is DONE. 😀 😀 Great article.
I love it when things get DONE 😀
Get done are the magic. 😀
Makes sense, but society really hates procrastination. So we’re raised to see it as a bad thing. Not only in ourselves, but in others. I know every time I relax and try to do some stress-relieving procrastination, I’m seen as idle and that’s when people start telling me to do things. Yeah, this is really going in an odd direction. My point is that it would be nice if people would accept that procrastinating even for a little bit is a good thing, which should not be disturbed. Wish I could play a video game before getting on with my day. Feels like I always have to hit the ground running.
I’m much the same. Hence this post 🙂
Good point. 🙂
That explains why I wander around with Ollie for hours, (without a phone) before settling down to write posts. I knew that I was doing something right!
Best wishes, Pete.
Lol – absolutely 😀
I fully agree that procrastination has its merits in the plane of creativity because it does take time for the mind to fully analyze everything and show the path to perfection. However, in every day life, procrastination is catastrophic. It stems from fear and weakens the mind. I push myself to get things done in my personal life, otherwise stress tends to accumulate :)))
Since we are all only too familiar with procrastination’s negative side, I figured we needed to be reminded of its positive one as well 😀
I am a Terrible Procrastinator!! Well, unless I am working on a book edit, then I don’t stop, I just keep working away… so that much is good. Now, other stuff? Yep. Procrastinator…. guilty as charged!
I tip my hat to a fellow procratinator 🙂
Lol, I fear I have to admit to being a notorious procrastinator, but I have to say there may be a spot of truth in the research. Some of my best marks at uni were from assignments handed in last minute – in my defense, inspiration didn’t come until the day before it was due. Seriously, I had to chuckle when I got 97% for an assignment that was loaded up onto the university’s moodle with a minute to spare – I kid you not. I worked throughout the night, I was on a roll and it paid off – so here’s to all the procrastinators out their, may they continue to do their best work……last minute 😀
97% – not bad! I’ll drink to that 😀