The Art of Procrastination


I read an article this week about why writer Adam Grant’s New Year’s resolution is to procrastinate more. As a high school English teacher his headline (“Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate”) struck me as someone trying to justify his online gaming or social media time, but as an artist and a writer I understand the point he’s making about allowing ideas to gel for awhile.

It’s funny, but my approach to all major projects, decisions, ideas, etc. is to jump right in – but only for a few minutes – before hopping right back out to contemplate. I guess I like to see what the fuss is all about (first one to try something new in at work, first one to volunteer for a committee, you get the picture), but then I like to mull it over before moving on. I never really thought of this as procrastination, but it turns out that it is. Research over the last few years tells us that (some) procrastination is linked to creativity. Of course, it also shows that too much procrastination causes stress and poor results, so the trick (as with all things in life) is finding the balance. When we have controlled procrastination we give ourselves time to think more deeply, to consider options that weren’t readily apparent at the outset of a problem or project, to envision multiple paths to success, or to come up with more creative ideas.

My version of controlled procrastination has always been to try something out, do some reading, talk to people about the idea, and then to just let it simmer in my brain for a few days – maybe even a week. If something seems to need a more immediate solution I doodle or play a mindless game on my phone (depending on where I am at the time).

I’ve also discovered that I work better with deadlines, so I set a day/time by which the decision has to be made or the product has to be completed. Of course, I always adhere to the Scotty Principle (from Star Trek) of padding that time when giving it to others, but cutting it a little shorter for myself. (I even remember discussing deadlines during the interview for my first writing job at The Mountain Press. The editor wanted to know if I could get things done on time, and we had a lengthy discussion about the value of deadlines in areas of life that had nothing to do with the newspaper business.)

Sometimes, though, if nothing happens when the deadline passes unheeded, I start to get bogged down. I find myself second guessing my ideas and decisions or feeling stuck. In that case, I always turn to some sort of artistic endeavor to get me moving again. Any kind of painting, crafting, or sewing project that I can focus on and complete does the trick for me. Sometimes it can be as simple as spending an evening coloring an intricate picture, because once I accomplish something (no matter how small), I feel I’m gaining momentum that I can apply to the larger endeavor. And, since I’ve accomplished this blog post, I’m ready to get back to work on the Paris-themed coloring book I’ve been contemplating for the last couple of days.

Here’s the link to Adam Grant’s article if you’re interested: “Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate”



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