A form of procrastination, baking can be the catalyst you need to be both peaceful and productive.
With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look ahead to what most consider their favorite baking season of all: Advent and Christmas. In my family, Advent and Christmas traditions have evolved over the years to include multiple special treats on various days, giving me the freedom to enjoy not only the sweetness of making my family eagerly-anticipated treats, but also the luxury of savoring the process.
Take bread, for instance. There’s something about making bread from scratch that brings me peace. Measuring the flour is a science, one that can be done perfectly. Proofing the yeast is like alchemy, as the granules bloom into something alive with the promise of what’s to come. Plunging my hands into the dough and kneading until I feel the texture transform under my fingers makes me feel rooted and present in the moment in a way that nothing else quite does.
Baking bread is soul-soothing, and the way it quiets my mind usually inspires a welcome burst of creativity and productivity while it’s rising. And it turns out I’m not the only person who feels this way about baking. There’s actually a name for the phenomenon, hashtagged by countless adherents and captured in a recent New York Times article that asks the glorious yet controversial question, “Why work when you can procrastibake?”
Tim Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, says that procrastination is one of few situations in which people consistently make choices that are demonstrably bad. “We make an emotional, irrational decision to do what feels good right now,” instead of doing what is necessary, he said. “Present self feels better, but future self gets jerked around.” Procrastibaking, he added, like procrasticleaning, is an unconsciously deployed strategy that makes us feel skilled, nurturing and virtuous in the present while distracting us from the future …
Many writers say that procrastibaking is actually part of their work, allowing them to enter a “flow state” that is conducive to creative thinking. Mia Hopkins… said that procrastibaking is her way out of writer’s block — especially pie, because it is more stimulating to the senses than other recipes. “You can bake an entire cake without touching anything,” she said. “With a pie, you squeeze the dough, you slice the fruit, you crimp the crust.” Baking helps her get out of the tangle of words in her head and into the physical world, she said, which helps with her particular line of work.
No offense to Dr. Pychyl, but I have to agree that procrastibaking can be a lot more than an unconscious escape from responsibility that gives us the illusion of virtue. I think it all depends on the type of baking you choose. If you’re whipping up a pan of box brownies because you want to eat something sweet to comfort yourself from the stress of the work you’re avoiding, then yeah, procrastibaking is probably an emotional, irrational choice. But that’s not the same thing as using the process of baking as a catalyst to spark your creativity.
When it comes to tasks that demand creativity, like writing articles, poems, and even workouts (which surprisingly require more creativity than I could ever have imagined), it’s easy to get tapped out. The meditative quality of measuring, proofing, and kneading bread calms my mind and pulls me fully into the present by activating all five senses. This brain break stimulates my creativity and becomes, like the bread itself, a kind of alchemy — it transforms what would have been a frustrating, hard work session into a smooth, seamless, and productive one.
Which is one of the reasons I love the spaced-out, braided-bread-and-morning-bun rhythm of Advent and Christmas baking. It’s never rushed, and there are never multiple dishes or breads to be made in a single week, let alone a single day. It the perfect opportunity to revel in some solid, creativity-sparking procrastibaking … and to enjoy the gift of making something with my hands that will bring joy to my family.