What If Procrastinating Could Make You MORE Creative?

Joy Thigpen

I was listening to my podcasts recently when a pretty interesting topic came up in my feed from the TED talks podcast. If you can afford to procrastinate what you’re supposed to be doing right now for 15 min, listen to Adam Grant talk about the huge up-side of procrastination and how slowing down can actually help you be more creative.

And/or read about it here in the NY Times. OR, if you want to minimize the time that you are procrastinating right now, I’ll give you the highlights:

Adam Grant’s team did a survey that discovered people who procrastinate are rated as more creative than people who say they don’t procrastinate.

BUT there is an important caveat to that. The results formed a nearly perfect inverted U-shaped curve:

The people who cranked out their first idea and the people who waited until too late to produce anything substantial didn’t come up with anything great. It’s that middle zone tends to be the sweet spot for really original and useful ideas. He calls these people in the middle zone Originals. “Originals are non-conformists. People who not only have new ideas but take action to champion them. Originals drive creativity and change in the world. They are the people you want to bet on.”

Da Vinci spent years on the Mona Lisa, Martin Luther King Jr. was re-writing his I Have A Dream speech until he went to speak...and then he improvised. The team who started Warby Parker didn’t have a website the day before they were supposed to launch.

Now it’s hard to say if creative people tend to procrastinate or if people who procrastinate tend to be creative, but Grant does think there’s a link. He points to a phenomenon called the Zeigarnik effect. Back in the 20s a German psychologist observed that we have a better memory for an incomplete task. Zeigarnik theorized and Grant agrees that incomplete tasks stay partially active in the back of our minds—we keep it active in our working memory. As we encounter other information, our brain links it back to that unsolved problem and we’re able to apply otherwise unrelated ideas and solve problems in new ways.

So yes, giving yourself some time to marinate and ruminate on an idea for a while will likely increase your chances of coming up with an original solution.

Makes you feel pretty good right? Because most of us who are “professional creatives” are also pretty professional procrastinators. We don’t need much encouragement to procrastinate. We are RARELY in danger of being on the left side of that U-shaped curve. BUT here’s our problem (because our greatest strengths tend to also be our greatest weaknesses, too, right?): we’re OFTEN in danger of falling too far to the right side of the curve.

Grant sites another phenomenon: compensatory conviction, a term coined by Ian McGregor. Compensatory conviction describes when a person is facing serious uncertainty...what are they most likely to do? Flee from it. (So, say...doing your taxes or registering your business perhaps?)

And this is where another TED speaker picks up…Tim Urban explains: What Happens in the Mind of an Extreme Procrastinator.

Tim first wrote about his problem on his blog. He explains his problem of procrastination like this (maybe you can relate?):

First there’s the non-procrastinator’s brain...

But then there’s the procrastinator’s brain…

The introduction of the Instant Gratification Monkey causes things like this…

So how does a person with an Instant Gratification Monkey ever get anything done? Tim says “it turns out there is one thing that scares the shit out of the Instant Gratification Monkey”:

He says, “The Panic Monster is dormant most of the time, but he suddenly wakes up when a deadline gets too close or when there’s danger of public embarrassment, a career disaster, or some other scary consequence.”

You can keep reading his series of blog posts to understand his theory more AND hear how he’s learned to defeat the power of the Instant Gratification Monkey. (Spoiler alert: it has a lot to do with making an actionable plan and taking small steps in the right direction.)

(I would guess another way to think about our propensity for procrastination is basically the notion that creatives tend to be wonderfully curious—but that is a slightly different angle on the thought.)

Anyway, I share all of this with you now though because we have just launched our new course:

Get Your Sh*t Together: The Legal Edition + Contract Template

And I know it’s not an exciting purchase for a lot of you. The Instant Gratification Monkey in you would much rather scroll through Pinterest or buy a new lens. And for most of you, getting your legal/business sh*t together has plenty of Panic Monster looming but it usually stays in the distance because there is no real deadline. No one is telling you “You HAVE to register your business by Friday”. I know because I was there for years. Years. I don’t want to have to resort to bringing out the Panic Monster on you but I want you to know that it would be appropriate. I’ve learned that not taking care of the things covered in this course have cost me a whole lotta thousands of dollars. Thousands!! And I’ve been super lucky that nothing horrible has happened or it could’ve been a whole lot more.

I personally think these business courses for creatives (Get Your Sh*t Together and our Pricing for Creatives course) are the best courses we’ve made because it will help so many creative entrepreneurs have more sustainable and viable businesses. And that’s a big deal to help creatives keep doing what you do best. This Legal course is awesome because it takes all of the “serious uncertainty” that usually causes us to flee all the paperwork and makes it understandable and actionable. I know it will It feels a lot like telling you to eat your vegetables but...I hope you do. You’ll feel so much better AND save SO much time, money, and headspace.

image soure