Do you procrastinate, or are you more likely to complete an assignment early? While it’s clear that procrastination cuts into productivity, in Adam Grant’s Op-Ed “Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate” for The New York Times, Grant wonders whether pre-crastinators are more or less creative than procrastinators.
One of Grant’s students devised an experiment to determine whether procrastinators do, in fact, perform with a higher degree of creativity.
Grant describes the experiment: “I wasn’t convinced. So Jihae [Shin], now a professor at the University of Wisconsin, designed some experiments. She asked people to come up with 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 raters rated how original they were. The procrastinators’ ideas were 28 percent more creative.”
I’m not sure how to quantitatively assess 28% more creativity, but we’ll go with the findings for argument’s sake. I’m impressed: not consciously thinking about a task has a positive impact on our creativity.
What were Grant’s takeaways? “Minesweeper is awesome, but it wasn’t the driver of the effect. When people played games before being told about the task, there was no increase in creativity. 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.”
For my own part, on straightforward tasks, I take a straight-forward approach. But when creative results are in demand, I take a more circuitous route, often letting time pass without action. In fact, I have learned to go easy on myself, and if words aren’t flowing, accept that and have a good time doing something else. The words will come later, in a flood, and that is just the way it will be.
Many other successful artists who are known procrastinators. Many even consider procrastination to be part of an artist’s temperament. As Grant quotes Aaron Sorkin, “You call it procrastination, I call it thinking.” What Grant shows is that we can achieve divergent and lateral thinking–the bedrock of creativity–by letting ourselves temporarily off the hook.
Photo above courtesy of Judit Klein.