Procrastination for Creativity

Strategies and tools to overcome procrastination are plentiful. From time management schemes to new technological apps, everyone wants to combat procrastination.

procrastinationBut what if procrastination actually helps you produce creative content? What if those hours avoiding the blank page contribute to that one beautiful line to trump all other sentences you’ve written?

Adam Grant, op-ed writer for The New York Times, discovered the creative benefits of procrastination. He found that being a pre-crastinator more often led to unoriginal work, whereas, procrastinators developed fresher ideas.

Discovering that my “time wasting” has a purpose didn’t help remove the guilt and anxiety that comes with procrastinating.

The ‘dark playground’

Wait But Why blogger, Tim Urban, perfectly captures the self-critical state of mind that procrastinators often occupy while doing everything and anything other than their work.

Urban calls it the “dark playground” where the instant gratification monkey plays. His two-part series includes steps to overcome procrastination by combatting the monkey’s pull.

Once again, we’re trying to fight the urge.

I won’t deny that the guilt and self-hatred that develops while procrastinating is miserable. These self-critical feelings only foster anxiety and prevent you from actually enjoying the activities that are supposed to satisfy instant gratification.

Wallowing in the gloom of the dark playground makes everything feel like work. Watching TV instead of writing that term paper? It’s no longer fun because of laughing at the comedy on the screen you’re planning the steps to take to tackle the paper….that you’ll begin after one more episode or tomorrow. Going out with friends becomes isolating as you sit making to-do lists in your head rather than participating in a conversation about embarrassing middle school fashion trends.

A creative instinct?

Almost everyone I know procrastinates in one-way or another. Yet, not all procrastinators are made equally. I’ve noticed that most of the people I know who procrastinate consider themselves to be creative people in some way – painters, performers, writers, other visual artists, cooks, etc…

procrastination
Photo credit: Commons.Wikimedia

We’ve all probably been there. We sit down to write. We get up and make coffee. We sit back down. We go do laundry. We try to write again. And then we rinse and repeat, using the excuse that inspiration just hasn’t hit us.

Inspiration. It’s an elusive word.

I won’t go into the idea of inspiration too much, because it could be a whole Writing Wednesday on its own.

Have you ever considered though that using a lack of inspiration as a reason not to write is just rationalizing procrastination?

Wansai Ounkeo, writing on Quora, says that this procrastination and the explanation of needing inspiration is legitimate.

“Part of that is how our mind works. Many of my peers, maybe most, are hard procrastinators. The mind of a creative is not linear and so works in short, random bursts.

And to be honest, resolving a creative isn’t like solving normal problems. I know agencies like to make presentation decks to make it look scientific but that’s to give you confidence in hiring us.

The reality is, inspiration has to hit us then we get cracking. It’s an intuitive process and follows no strict logic….

When the creative has to develop an idea AND execute, then it might look like he just smoked a joint and taken a long break… For several days. It isn’t an ABC process. Because the nature of anything creative is subjective, the designer/artist, has to conceive and rummage through a near limitless see of probable and possible solutions – there’s more than one solution and we have to pick the most appropriate solution.”

Perhaps, then, procrastinating is a creative instinct. Maybe procrastination is our brain’s way of telling us to take a break, think about it, and wait for inspiration.

Don’t rationalize away the procrastination too much, because….

It’s a balance.

Walking the tightrope

Procrastination shouldn’t rule our creative process. We shouldn’t become addicted to procrastinating and rationalize it too much, because we may find ourselves procrastinating full-time.

A few hours can become a day can become couple days can become a week, a month, a year…

procrastination
Photo credit: Flickr user Vic

Science may suggest that procrastination can be creatively beneficial, but there are also negative side effects.

Procrastinate smartly. If you begin to feel you’re procrastinating out of fear, low self-confidence, or self-criticism – STOP! Writers, we’re our own worst critics, but we shouldn’t let it paralyze us.

There is a fine line between procrastinating to incubate a creative idea and procrastinating to avoid doing something we don’t want to do.

If you need suggestions of how to avoid useless procrastination, check out these five steps from Prism International, a quarterly literary magazine out of Vancouver, Canada.

Do you procrastinate? Do you find that procrastinating leads to creative ideas? Why do you procrastinate?

How do you combat useless procrastination?

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