Sometimes procrastinating can increase creativity.
Do you tend to postpone decisions? Have you ever left an important task until the last minute? All of us have been guilty of procrastinating at one time or another.
Some postpone studying until they know the date of the exam. Others put off their the wedding, until they can afford a fancier celebration, for example. We often procrastinate tasks that turn us off or cause us anxiety.
Procrastination can also be a form of laziness: I don’t like it, and I don’t feel like it doing it, so I’ll leave it for later. Procrastination provides us with an excuse to say “I’ll do it later.”
The origin of the word defines it well: It comes from the Latin roots pro and crastinus, which means “for” and “tomorrow.” Procrastinating literally means “leaving things for tomorrow.” Cicero himself, the famous Roman philosopher, orator, and politician, speaks of procrastinatio—in the first century before Christ. Clearly, procrastination is an age-old problem.
But why? The reality is that when you procrastinate, you stop doing the work you should be doing, and that means that you don’t fulfill your responsibilities. Worst of all, we mentally deceive ourselves when our brains come up with “arguments” to justify those delays. We pretend that we’ll study better tomorrow, that we’ll be more focused on doing this job, or that marrying later will be an act of greater maturity. And we believe our own lies.
Is procrastinating ever good? Can it give you better quality of life? Let’s look at the research. In 1997, researchers Roy Baumeister and Dianne Tice, from Case Western Reserve University, conducted two studies with university students. Their goal was to see if procrastination affected their grades, their health, and their well-being.
The first study was done in the first semester of the course, and students who procrastinated actually had higher grades (for their class participation, for example) and better health. The second study, however, was done in the second semester, when final exams were closer and the end-of-course papers had to be handed in. At that time, the procrastinators had more health problems: Their stress increased more than that of non-procrastinators. This research is applicable to our lives: When a deadline is far away, we don’t have to worry about it. But when the deadline approaches, our increasing stress can lead to insomnia, worry, and physical symptoms of anxiety.
Is everything about procrastinating negative? There is only one case in which scientific studies speak of the positive effects of procrastination, and that’s when the task requires creativity.
In other words, if I “take my time” to change a light bulb or do the laundry, I don’t get anything positive out of it (moreover, the volume of dirty laundry may increase!). On the other hand, for tasks like creating an art piece or writing a speech, postponing it may allow the subconscious to work on that task so that more ideas, memories, or details can contribute to the final result.
So with all this information, how can we make procrastination work for us?
Adam Grant, a psychologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World in 2016. He writes that it’s good to allow time for better ideas to develop, rather than using the first idea you come up with, and he gives examples of success by people who procrastinated and found that it helped them to be more creative in their final work.
To use procrastination for your advantage, follow these three simple ideas:
1. Set a deadline.
It’s been proven that we organize our time to complete tasks at the end of a deadline that’s been set for us (or which we have set for ourselves). So, determine when you should have something ready, and take it as a deadline.
2. Sincerely discern which tasks need time for creativity and which tasks you should do without delay.
Give creative space where you really need it, and for the rest, get to work now.
3. Make a first version of your work and let it rest.
In this way, you’ll have overcome your initial laziness by acting diligently, and procrastination will only improve the final version of the task.