Elizabeth: Procrastination is my Super-Power

Now_Later_ProcrastinationI saw a sign the other day that said “I put the PRO in procrastination” and thought it described me perfectly.

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.

Originality

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.

Perception

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?

9 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Procrastination is my Super-Power

  1. I attended a self-help class once where the instructor said, “Procrastination is a necessary skill. Without it, if you wake up at 3 a.m. and realize the grass needs cutting, you’d have to hop out of bed and do it right then.”

    I’m more of the Picasso frame of mind, myself. Which is probably why I’m about to start attempt #3 of the first scene of A Girl’s Best Friend.

    • I like the idea of a “Picasso” frame of mind. Sounds colorful. Good luck on the latest opening scene attempt. Thr time’s the charm, right?

      • Apparently not. Sigh. It’s horrible–no conflict, loaded down with backstory. On the other hand, it does intro the right characters and starts the story I want to tell. “I can fix anything but a blank page…”

        • Jeanne – well, that sounds like progress, even if it isn’t *quite* the progress you were looking for. Good luck on continuing to work forward. I’ll be getting back to work myself . . . . . soon.

        • My solution to the first-scene-no-conflict-backstory problem is to write the second scene. Usually by then I’ve figured out what needs to be in scene 1 (which is actually scene 2…scene 1 hits the chopping block). Good luck!!

  2. I’m a procrastinator, too, especially on the creative side. When I had a day job, I could schedule all the boring stuff—the contracts and filing and budgets and whatever— and just do it and get it done. But the creative stuff—writing and layout—I did that better if I had some time pressure. I think by putting off the creative side for a week or two, I had time to gel on ideas. But I always felt guilty about it! Thanks for giving me permission to slide into the lazy side. 🙂

    • It’s interesting that procrastination varies between “work” and “creative” tasks. I know I am the same way. Work things tend to get scheduled and done when they need to be, but when it comes to creative things, something else always seems to cone up to delay me. I like the thought that procrastinating is really helping me be more creative. Hope that works for you too.

  3. You know, I wonder — maybe procrastination is mostly the result of just not being ready to do something. No, that’s not the only reason. But it is one important reason.

    Oh, I don’t know. I was going to say, one doesn’t procrastinate when eating a brownie hot fudge sundae. But the truth of the matter is that one does procrastinate when it comes to making the brownies. So many arguments: it’s not healthy. I don’t deserve it. What will my friends think if they discover I’ve been making brownie hot fudge sundaes? I could buy the brownie. (Ick. Plus, that road just leads to putting off the shopping trip, IME.) It’s going to be a great, wonderful experience, but there are so many sins and consequences attached to it!

    Writing is a bit like this. Lovely when it’s done, but there’s so much baggage . . . .

  4. Pingback: Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints – Let the Randomness Begin! – Eight Ladies Writing

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