Procrastination done right (for idea generation)
An unusually creative doctoral student named Jihae Shin approached me with a counterintuitive idea: procrastination might be conducive to originality.
When you procrastinate , you’re intentionally delaying work that needs to be done. You might be thinking about the task, but you postpone making real progress on it or finishing it to do something less productive.
Shin proposed that when you put off a task, you buy yourself time to engage in divergent thinking rather than foreclosing on one particular idea. As a result, you consider a wider range of original concepts and ultimately choose a more novel direction. I challenged her to test it.
. . . . .
To find out, she gathered data from a Korean furniture company. Employees who procrastinated regularly spent more time engaging in divergent thinking and were rated as significantly more creative by their supervisors.
Procrastination didn’t always fuel creativity: if the employees weren’t intrinsically motivated to solve a major problem, stalling just set them behind.
But when they were passionate about coming up with new ideas, putting off the task led them to more creative solutions. Procrastination may be the enemy of productivity, but it can be a resource for creativity.
Long before the modern obsession with efficiency precipitated by the Industrial Revolution and the Protestant work ethic, civilizations recognized the benefits of procrastination.
In ancient Egypt, there were two different verbs for procrastination: one denoted laziness; the other meant waiting for the right time.
It may not be a coincidence that some of the most original thinkers and inventors in history have been procrastinators.
A prime example is Leonardo da Vinci, whose original accomplishments spanned painting and sculpting, architecture and music, math and engineering, geology and cartography, and anatomy and botany.
Scholars estimate that da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa on and off for a few years starting in 1503, left it unfinished, and didn’t complete it until close to his death in 1519.
His critics believed he was wasting his time dabbling with optical experiments and other distractions that kept him from completing his paintings. These distractions, though, turned out to be vital to his originality.