Despite well thought out plans and schedules, my natural tendency is to put off tasks, especially creative tasks, until the last minute (or close to it). Whether it’s waiting until the very last second to get up in the morning, or starting a writing task in earnest just before a deadline, procrastination is definitely my super-power.
A quick sweep of the internet turned up a number of quotes warning of the dangers of procrastination and making the case for getting to work and getting things done.
“The best way to get something done is to begin.” ~ anonymous
“Procrastination is the thief of time.” ~ Edward Young
“Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin.” ~ Victor Kaim
“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.” ~ Pablo Picasso
While that all sounds great, realistically I’ve done what I consider some of my most creative writing work when I was under the pressure of a procrastination-induced deadline. I’m not sure if my creativity is the result of the focus a deadline requires or if the pressure of a time constraint helps me step away from the “analysis paralysis” mode and just put words on the page. Regardless of which it is, procrastination is one of the tools in my writer’s toolbox and I think it’s there to stay.
Imagine how delighted I was, therefore, when an article turned up in my news feed yesterday talking about boosting creativity through procrastination.
“The most effective way to tackle a new creative assignment is to put it off for a while.” ~ psychologist Maria Konnikova
Konnikova, a psychologist and the author of several books, talked about the importance of taking mind-clearing pauses before starting on a new task. It’s not a new concept. I found a number of books and articles on creativity that echoed that advice, including this TED Talk on the habits of original thinkers.
One positive result of procrastination can be originality. Talking extra time before starting a task gives you a chance to do a little mental brainstorming and come up with new ideas that you wouldn’t have considered if you had just jumped right in and got to work with that first idea.
One of my favorite exercises for figuring out what to do in a scene when I’m stuck is to make a list of 10 things that *could* happen, and then ignore those and figure out what option 11 would be. That lets me get the run-of-the-mill solutions out of the way so I can think more creatively, just like a healthy dose of procrastination does.
Pausing before tackling a task can also improve your perception of things. With a little procrastination time, you can think through layers in your story and possibly recognize connections, associations, and patterns that might not be obvious on first glance. In many ways, procrastination is a way to brainstorm your story (or other creative task) without the pressure of putting words on the page. Looking at it that way, it seems like a very reasonable first step in the creative process.
I know my procrastination habit allows me to do the mental “pre-work” that I need to complete before starting to write so that I have at least a basic idea of what I’m trying to do. Whether it’s telling myself (or someone else) my planned story like Nancy talked about in her post on Monday or tearing pictures of out magazines (or from the internet) that “feel” like my story, procrastination is a necessary part of my creative process.
I’m fine with that.
So, what’s your procrastination level?