There’s no denying that procrastination chips away at productivity. But when it comes to the creative process, Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School, has found that procrastination can lead to better ideas.
In a New York Times op-ed column, Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate, Grant explores the correlation between performance and procrastination habits, citing an experiment conducted by one of his former students. Jihae Shin, now a professor at the University of Wisconsin, asked participants to generate new business ideas. Some were randomly assigned to start right away. Others were given five minutes to first play Minesweeper or Solitaire. Everyone submitted their ideas, and independent evaluators rated how original they were.
The result? The procrastinators’ ideas were rated as 28 percent more creative.
“When people played games before being told about the task, there was no increase in creativity,” Grant wrote in the column. “It was only when they first learned about the task and then put it off that they considered more novel ideas. It turned out that procrastination encouraged divergent thinking.”
So how might you leverage procrastination to surface your best ideas? The approach depends on whether you’re an avid procrastinator or the opposite: a precrastinator.
If you are the kind of person who dives immediately into a new project and finishes it way ahead of schedule, consider forcing yourself to wait.
Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, and to make unexpected leaps.
Figure out ways to prevent yourself from completing creative projects before you’ve had the time to think about them in depth. If you’re writing, you might jot down a few sentences, then leave them unfinished while you grab lunch. Or write a first draft, but hold off on reviewing until a week later. Work against your gut instinct to finish immediately, and delay.
For Extreme Procrastinators
If you are the kind of person who waits until the last minute to look at an assignment, make it a habit to review it on the first day it’s assigned to you. Spend an hour with it, and jot down some initial notes.
Even if you are not yet actively working on the project, the assignment is in your mind, where the gears can turn until you return to it. You might also benefit from some creative exercises to help you overcome the paralysis that can set in during the creative process. Such tools can relieve pressure and jumpstart creative thinking.