The positive side of procrastination

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Most of us see procrastination as a negative — something we should avoice. But did you know there’s also a positive side of procrastination?

By Ann Gomez

Do you ever tell your kids it’s okay if they’re bored? Or, perhaps you recall an elder saying the same to you? If so, the instinct is right. There’s a wealth of parenting guidance suggesting we should not be filling our kids’ days with carefully curated and back-to-back activities and events. Rather, when kids are bored, something amazing happens – they get creative.

The same is true for us. If you put off a task because you’re stuck or even feeling a little bored, you might be procrastinating. But this isn’t necessarily a bad move.

As long as you don’t completely abandon the task, you may find inspiration strikes while you step away. You might enjoy a burst of creativity or discover an excellent solution to a lingering problem. You may even land on the perfect ending for your novel or stumble on a piece of innovative research for your paper.

Yes, there are clear productivity benefits to sticking with a task. I shared this in a recent article, along with tips to help you stop procrastinating.

But there can also be benefits from select pauses. In his first TED talk, Adam Grant describes procrastination as “a vice for productivity but a virtue for creativity.” He’s co-written a paper about it with the student who first brought this idea to him: “When putting work pays off: The curvilinear relationship between procrastination and creativity” (Shin & Grant). Here is part of what the paper said:

Although it is widely assumed that procrastination is counterproductive, delaying task progress may have hidden benefits for creativity. Drawing on theories of incubation, we propose that moderate procrastination can foster creativity when employees have the intrinsic motivation and opportunity to generate new ideas.”

Just don’t postpone your task for too long or you risk experiencing the negative effects of procrastination, such as lower work quality and more stress and strain. Try stepping away for a day or two — maximum. Any longer and you’ll also lose time in ‘Where was I?’ thinking as you reacquaint yourself with the task.

I hope this post inspires you to see a healthy amount of procrastination can be a virtue for your creativity.

For more strategies you can use to set yourself up for success, see Ann’s latest book, Workday Warrior: A Proven Path to Reclaiming Your Time, published by Dundurn Press, 2022.

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