Does Procrastination Inspire Creativity and Innovation?

Irony of ironies, it turns out that procrastination might help with everyday creativity.
01/25/2016 02:44 pm ET Updated Jan 24, 2017

On Sundays, one of my favorite activities is to sit at the kitchen table and read the New York Times. I was all in a week ago with an Adam Grant article titled "Step 1: Procrastination." Knowing full-well that Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, is anything but a procrastinator, my curiosity was sparked.

Irony of ironies, it turns out that "procrastination might help with everyday creativity." Grant points to Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton, Aaron Sorkin and Frank Lloyd Wright as highly creative "chronic procrastinators" and cites research that shows "procrastination encouraged divergent thinking" and increased the generating of creative ideas. Grant is a self-described "pre-crastinator" - the type of person who gets things done several days and weeks ahead of time. He says that "if you're a procrastinator, overcoming that monkey can require herculean amounts of willpower. But a pre-crastinator may need equal willpower to not work." "Quite a different perspective," I thought - we don't often hear someone encourage us to hold ourselves back from completing tasks.

With his researcher's mind, Adam Grant set out to experiment on himself. He created a "to-do list for procrastinating more." Yes, you heard me right. His first step was to delay creative tasks. Borrowing a technique used by Mitch Albom, author or Tuesday's with Morrie, he made himself stop writing in the middle of a creative sentence. Once a written draft was completed, he'd put it away for three weeks only to discover that when he came back to it he "needed to rewrite most of it."

Oh my - how familiar this was sounding; it's exactly what goes on for me. So often I get excited by a written draft only to discover days later that it wasn't so great after all. Each time I'm newly surprised by my discoveries. I read the article and thought about my own challenges - the ways in which I, like Adam, can get stuck in the "need-to-be-doing-something mode" when I'd be best off being in the chill-down-and-take-it-more-slowly-mode."

Continuing to think about Grant's findings, I realize that my own most creative ideas come when walking my dog in the woods or when in the midst of a yoga pose; generally speaking, not while I'm sitting at a computer. What Adam Grant discovered was that "in every creative project, there are moments that require thinking more laterally and yes, more slowly" and that his own "natural need to finish early was a way of shutting down complicating thoughts." I will most definitely benefit from following in Grant's footsteps and will practice slowing down in order to "teach myself to procrastinate!"

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