The Creative Power of Procrastination
Yes, my friends, you read the title right. Procrastination can actually be wielded for your benefit.
I think it would be fair to assume that as the creative folk we are, we have all experienced procrastinating on a task. This isn’t typically something we covet or are proud of (in fact it often leads us to a fun downwards spiral of guilt and self-destruction), but smart, scientific people have shown this may not be necessary.
For example, studies have shown people to be 28% more creative when they “procrastinate on purpose”, so there may just be a benevolent god after all 🙏
However, this welcome gain requires an intentional process, so before you run off to video game away the next three hours, commit yourself to the next three minutes of reading this. It’s worth taking the time to understand how you can harness this creative super power.
Productivity vs. creativity The main man behind this research is a very cool guy named Adam Grant, an American psychologist, author, and professor at the Wharton School in Pennsylvania.
A key point he highlights from his findings is that, “Procrastinating is a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue for creativity.” So while procrastination probably isn’t the best route for more black-and-white life tasks, it may well be for your next song, script or blank canvas.
Similarly, the creative advantages were only really found in the middle ground — the sweet spot between those who “never” procrastinate and those who “always” procrastinate. Much like Goldilocks, we want to be aiming to get it “just right”.
Optimal creative process So, you ask, what is this secret recipe?
Fortunately it’s rather simple, but like any recipe, needs to be followed in order to achieve the desired result.
Step 1) Define task Step 2) Procrastinate on purpose
Step 3) Finish task
Grant noted that original thinkers are “quick to start but slow to finish”. They quickly define and clarify the task or project ahead, but then deliberately make the time and space for the idea to incubate.
This results in two significant advantages. The first being that it gives us the opportunity to “consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps.” A common thread in many of humanity’s greatest innovations.
The second being that when we ultimately return to the task or project, we do so with “vuja de” — the opposite of déjà vu. This is when we look at something we’ve seen “many times before and all of a sudden see it with fresh eyes”. Again, this gives us access to an insight and perspective that we’d have otherwise bypassed.
If you’re interested in diving a little deeper, I’d highly recommend checking out Grant’s book, Originals, which shares more of the science behind this idea, as well as other equally intriguing discoveries on the wider creative process.
Either way, consider this your permission slip to “procrastinate on purpose” without feeling the need to beat yourself up. The world needs the artistic excellence you have within you, so be productive, yes, but also be kind.
Tahlia Norrish is an Australian actor and writer currently based in London. After graduating from both The Liverpool Institute fo Performing Arts (Acting & Musical Theatre) and Rose Bruford College (BA (Hons) Acting), Tahlia stepped up as Head Coach a The Actor’s Dojo - an online coaching program pioneering actor empowerment.