Speaking to a friend of mine today who is a genius creator – and as such, very messy with the way she goes through her list of tasks every day – she said to me “I just laughed really hard watching a TED Talk about procrastination. You should watch it too”.
Yes, I did have 98 unread emails on my inbox folder. Sure, I hadn’t yet had lunch, and it was 2 pm already. Fine, I still had so many things to cross off my list that day, but hey, I am a creative person too and, as such, I bargained with myself saying that I really needed some food, and the 14-minute TED Talk could work as nice background noise whilst I whipped up something to eat real quick.
Oh, and am I glad I did! During those 14 minutes, the writer and serious procrastinator Tim Urban encourages us to think harder about what we’re really procrastinating on before we run out of time. He reasons that, to some extent, we are all procrastinators, but that some of us do it better than others.
His idea of how we fill up the time in which we were supposed to be productive made me think of my relationship with creativity and procrastination. Is it possible that all the times my eyes wandered from my blank page where I was supposed to be writing words to look at some video, or read some text, or talk on the phone to some friend deprived me of accomplishing more? Or is it that all of those times I went on a tangent ended up giving me more repertoire to enrich my creations?
When Urban says: “Now, what is going on here? The Instant Gratification Monkey does not seem like a guy you want behind the wheel. He lives entirely in the present moment. He has no memory of the past, no knowledge of the future, and he only cares about two things: easy and fun.” and completes it with “Which is why we have another guy in our brain, the Rational Decision-Maker, who gives us the ability to do things no other animal can do. We can visualise the future. We can see the big picture. We can make long-term plans.”, what I hear is that our ability to be rational and professional is equally matched to our ability to be serious slackers because, well, slacking is fun. And frankly, when it comes to creativity and innovation, sometimes a good dose of fun is all you can ask for as it creates the spark in the “auto-pilot-mode” brain.
When creating anything, a structured canvas can be a helpful guide, but I believe that the real magic happens when you are so immersed in your thoughts and ideas that nothing seems too crazy or too silly; innovation cannot happen if all you have is rules.
I was doing some research for a project the other day and came across writer Whitney Johnson’s piece “Procrastination Is Essential To Innovation” for the Harvard Business Review. In it, she speaks about the anxiety and procrastination she went through when writing her book: “As I have begun to innovate, to introduce new ideas and ways of doing things, frustration and anxiety have given way to the anticipation of my book selling. In hindsight, it’s easy to think that progress is a simple left to right beeline, rather than something approximating a Wild West duel between you, and you. It’s also tempting to glorify ‘push’ (the problem to be solved) and ‘pull’ (the exciting new idea) as the forces of progress we laud in entrepreneurs. But sometimes your weaknesses (procrastination and anxiety) may actually be the ‘red-hot coal stuck in the throat’ that summons your superpowers.“
I agree with her. Creativity isn’t a linear process; it doesn’t have a rule book. Procrastination is – perhaps – more than simply “not getting to what you needed to do”. To be creative is also, at times, an exercise of exposing oneself to multiple kinds of information from different sources. To me, good ideas depend more on repertoire than on to-do lists; they are more likely to appear when you’re having fun than when you’re following a strict schedule.
Working your creative muscle by engaging in brainstorming exercises and using Design Thinking methods will absolutely train your brain on how to make connections faster. Ultimately, having these tools available to you will help you become a better creator. Nevertheless, training methods do not mean spontaneity needs to die because it is from it that innovation happens.
Can procrastination help you innovate? I think it absolutely can, after all, what is creativity if not the stretching of a bored mind?
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