People Who Always Procrastinate Are More Creative (From Research)

Wealth and success are tied hand-in-hand with creativity.

Successful people and businesses have to come up with innovative ideas to change people’s lives and offer value. So how can you become more creative? Research claims to procrastinate. And how do you beat procrastination? You’ll find out…

In the book Originals, the author, Adam Grant, challenged Jihae Shin, a doctoral student, to prove that when you put off a task, you think more creatively and end up coming back with a more innovative idea.

In her dissertation, Jihae had college students come up with ideas for what to do for a vacant lot. One group of students were told to procrastinate with video games before starting the task.

Independent raters who didn’t know which group procrastinated rated the procrastinating group as 28% more creative.

Adam and Jihae tried to control for the factor of the video game itself boosting creativity by having another group play the video game before they were assigned the task. They also had a group take a break rather than play a video game. Both of these groups did not have an increased rating of creativity.

Adam concluded that delaying the task through procrastination allowed them to spend more time considering possibilities rather than focusing on one solution. He thought the group with the break didn’t do better because they made too much progress on the task and would just resume it without thinking outside the box. So

Here’s what wasn’t accounted for in this experiment. Perhaps, it’s not the act of delaying the task but simply putting in more time to do something else to give your subconscious time to work on a creative solution. Many artists, including Ed Sheeran, get there ideas after taking time off doing something else, like sleeping.

By narrowly focusing on this expected conclusion to the research with confirmation bias, they may have missed the possibility that successful people schedule in their moments of “off-time” deliberately for creativity rather than being undisciplined and procrastinating.

Having said that, successful creatives, like Leonardo Da Vinci have used procrastination effectively, when the other activities build off what he’s procrastinating with. 

Scholars estimate that it took him a few years to finish the Mona Lisa and 15 years to finish The Last Supper. Other projects distracted him from finishing the paintings. Yet they weren’t just a distraction. His study of how light strikes a sphere helped him model lighting in his paintings, for example.

So what makes the difference between a man who hasn’t made much of his life due to to procrastination and a Steve Jobs who “procrastinated” by taking a seemingly useless typography class he enjoyed in college. Maybe it’s the fact that he kept to one main focus that he built towards and let his random hobbies connect their way back to helping his main focus eventually, even if he can’t connect the dots at the moment. According to Steve’s Stanford commencement speech, that’s exactly what happened. He later found that his typography knowledge helped revolutionize keyboards.

Jihae concluded in her dissertation that a high motivation will lead to poor creative performance in secondary tasks because of the focus. A medium motivation leads to optimal creativity in other tasks because you are more willing to work through them.

Adam also points to a survey done by psychologist Rena Subotnik on the winners of the Science Talent Search, the “Super Bowl” of Science for high school seniors. More than 68% admitted to procrastinating in at least 2 of these categories: routine, creative, social life, or health behavior.

While he took this as proof that creative thinkers and top problem solvers procrastinate often, it may just mean that even successful people struggles with procrastination from time to time across the varying domains of life.

Warren Buffett, one of the richest men alive for decades, is known for his legendary ability to concentrate for hours on end, profiled in his son’s book, Life is What You Make It, as similar to a monk emerging from his study after a whole day of focus. But even he admitted in a recent shareholders meeting that he has trouble with firing managers he likes and procrastinates — once, delaying for years to fire someone who had developed Alzheimer’s but was still running a company.

Moreover, early academic success doesn’t always correlate with later life success or wealth, something that Adam ironically talks about and cites earlier in his book. So are we sure these Science Talent Search winners are truly successful later in life?

Nonetheless, a good takeaway is that you shouldn’t seek perfection. Even the most successful still slip up from time to time.

Practical Tips to Procrastination

Maybe I haven’t convinced you completely that procrastination is always good.

Sure, there are times when you just have to suck it up and do what you don’t want to. After all ,successful people do what unsuccessful people won’t. So here are some quick tips to stop procrastinating:

Baby steps. Commit to the tiniest portion. And before you know it, you realize you could do a bit more. From here, some people end up finishing the whole thing as they do more and more. For others, they don’t finish a large percentage but they got more done than they otherwise would have. And they repeat this daily until it gets done.

Here’s an example:

I want to work out every day but spending hours at the gym intimidates me.

I commit to a goal of 5 minutes a day. I set out the clothes so there’s no barriers or obstacles. I commit to leaving when the timer hits 5 everyday. It’s such a small easy goal that I hit it.

After doing this for 90 days, I have turned it into a habit and now commit to a larger goal of 10 minutes.

Example 2:

I am procrastinating on writing a 5,000 word essay.

Instead, I commit to just write the first sentence. It is such a small, easy goal that I finish it quickly. As soon as I do, I realize I can probably write another.

A half hour later, I’ve written 500 words. It’s not 5,000 but I’ve made much more progress than I would have.

I congratulate myself, reward myself with a nice, healthy treat, and do the same thing the next day. Over time, I finish the essay.

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