Last week we were taking our son back to college. It is a long journey and we forgot to take along an audio book. Fortunately we were able to listen to an NPR station which had on their TED Radio Hour program. It was fascinating. The topic for this week was slowing down. (Click here for the program)
There were a series of reports on different ideas of slowing down. One that caught our ears was the idea of procrastination. Adam Grant is a professor, psychologist and author. And by his own admission a "pre-crastinator"- someone who gets anxious if he hasn't completed his tasks way ahead of time.
Even though it would appear that "pre-crastinators" get a jump on a goal, he has found that it is the procrastinators who are more original and creative.
Being a recovering procrastinator, I was interested. I have written and talked about planning ahead and have changed my own habits to allow time and space to do so. His research suggests that when we are faced with a challenge sometimes we need to put the work off for awhile. Who knew?
He had many reasons to explain why. Part of it he calls, serious uncertainty. When you are uncertain you escape to something else, evenly passionately to avoid putting off what you were doing. It is during that time that the uncertainty stays active in the back of your mind. We have a better memory of that which is incomplete rather than a completed task. Once something is completed it is as if our brain says, "Okay that is over and done. Wipe my hands of that and move on." But if it is incomplete our mind keeps ruminating on it.
In looking back, all my avoidance of a deadline in order to alphabetize the spices was probably my mind working on the task! Seriously, he does make me reflect on how I do work. Having a thinking type job, I need to figure out what is the best scenario for completing my goals. His study gives freedom to improvise and permission to change. As I am ruminating about an idea, I might decide to explore a totally different tangent. For example, he explains how Leonardo de Vinci took over fifteen years to paint one of his canvases. During that time he also explored the science of optics and the way light is seen. His discoveries led him to paint in a different way- the masterpiece we know as the Mona Lisa.
When is procrastination destructive or creative? His suggestion: when actively grappling with a problem we can use procrastination to our advantage- to be quick to begin and slow to finish. There is a learning curve of how to be skilled between toggling between creativity and productivity. There is a time to ponder and there is a time to get going. But we can give ourselves permission to hold tight, think a little and explore new ideas before we have to check another item on our to-do list.
What about you? Are you a "pro or pre" crastinator? Has any delay in a decision, task or project resulted in a favorable outcome? Or not? In light of Dr. Grant's suggestion how could you have handled your latest project? Do you need to slow down? Or do you totally procrastinate, avoiding completely that which you need to do? How can you jump start what you need to do? Would knowing that you don't have to finish immediately (being slow to finish) get you to start quickly?
What are the "pros" in your procrastination?