The Power Of Procrastination

SevenDeadlySinsSloth - Rosie HardyIt always seems to happen at the very last minute. Just as I’m about to head off to bed, suddenly out of nowhere, I’m struck with a compelling idea or vision that ends up filling my mind, keeping me up for another hour (or two) into the night.

Yeah, but sleep is so overrated when you have one of these beautiful machines to jolt your neurons back to life the following day.

Everyone at one time or another has had that killer idea ‘pop’ into their head, sometimes at the most inopportune moment when, let’s say, a deadline is a mere few hours away.

What do do? Rework your previous ideas for the killer solution that just entered your head?

Do you have really have time to fully articulate or execute this late blooming idea, perhaps the result of a full week of research and other seemingly less compelling ideas marinating around in your head? In any case it’s decision time.

Every account or project manager, designer or creative, supervisor or developer—I don’t care what your job function is—can relate to the scenario mentioned above. Creativity, in the form of inspiring solutions to sometimes vague or complex problems, knows not the artificial boundaries set forth by deadlines or the quaint 9 to 5 work day. So why not invite procrastination in as a way to improve the quality of our ideas. Sound absurd? I don’t think so.

In fact earlier this evening I was struggling to find something interesting to blog about—call it lack of inspiration, fear of the blank WYSIWYG editor screen, or a combination of the usual weekly distractions—I don’t know, but I’ve not been able to commit to a meaningful blog post in the last couple weeks.

Here’s the problem I’m sure many bloggers can identify with: it’s really, really easy to come up with lots of creative ideas and interesting subjects to write about—quite another task to hunker down and actually follow-through on something you feel good about publishing and sharing with others. I personally struggle to find the time and energy to write 1 decent blog post per week. Usually I only manage to spit out 2 or 3 posts any given month. Many weeks I am simply too busy or consumed by looming work deadlines to compile any coherent thoughts together in the form of a succinct argument or idea.

Tangible evidence of my procrastination: the last time I checked, I had exactly 17 blog entries stuck in WordPress draft mode in varying states of completion. Some as random half-baked ideas, others more obscure topics perhaps of fleeting interest I’ve never bothered to finish up or taken the time to publish.
But here’s the point where my apparent procrastination in publishing these posts becomes advantageous. Revisiting these rough ideas weeks—sometimes months—after their initial birth I feel able to approach their development with a renewed sense of clarity and motivation. Perhaps during the passing weeks I’ve been exposed to newer, more provocative ideas with the capacity to influence the older ones.

Maybe I’m generalizing, but I tend to think most designers and creative people (myself included) openly embrace distractions and tangent idea thinking techniques (procrastination perhaps dubiously included) many of our left-brain oriented colleagues consider tantamount to a colossal waste of time, energy and/or resources.

When you’re rushing to a solution, your mind will jump to the easiest and most familiar path. But when you allow yourself to just look out the window for 10 minutes – and ponder – your brain will start working in a more creative way. Scott Belsky, CEO of Behance and author of Making Ideas Happen

But I recall several past projects in which I’ve not rushed into pursuing one creative solution or singular design direction, but rather suspended the urge to go down an easily defined path. In these instances I took greater than normally allocated amounts of time to explore adjacencies and alternatives to the seemingly obvious or expected result—in short the results were fantastic.

Of course, you might be thinking, does the title of this post suggest I’m advocating laziness or that delaying the formation of work deliverables is something of an excuse to avoid making decisive choices towards getting things done in a timely fashion. Not at all. Deadlines need to be honoured; constraints followed to the letter (sometimes).
I suppose the challenge lies with adding value where ever possible without infringing upon deadline, budget and so forth. If that means staying up late or putting in a few extra hours here and there to achieve a superior result, I say why not.

Don Draper once said: “The best idea always wins and you know it when you see it and then it happens”. What this says to me is that great ideas need time to grow; room to be manipulated, mashed-up, delayed or slept on before proceeding or passing judgement upon.

If you accept the idea that, in a creative context, process is more important than outcome then you will no doubt see the value in ideation techniques emphasizing sustained, critical exploration over making snap judgements (Gladwell’s Blink comes to mind) as a viable way to solve problems.

If procrastination works for you (and it does for me on occasion), include it in your creative arsenal or toolbox. Feel good about exploiting it on a regular basis to the betterment of your ideas if in fact ideas are your livelihood.

[photo credit: Rosie Hardy via Flickr]

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