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The Power of Procrastination

Procrastination! As a student, this word means so much in so many different situations. However, for us, procrastination was always just seen as an excuse and often a bad one at that. The thought of utilising procrastination to fuel innovation sounded like you were trying to make yourself feel better for doing the assignment the night before its due. However, unbeknown to both of us, we had been subconsciously engaging in proactive procrastination. This came to light after watching Adam Grant’s Ted Talk on originals.

Adam Grant during his TED talk

Adam poses an interesting perspective on the relationship between; productivity, innovation and time management. He first uses the example of the development of Warby Parker, a multi-million-dollar company that sells optical products online. The industry-leading business was built by two of Grant’s former students who, prior to the launch of the business, were fully engaged in procrastination. So much so, that it seemed that the company didn’t quite have all the components of the business that they should have. At least, that’s what Grant thought. While the students delayed their development of the product on the surface, the fundamentals of the company were in full development in their minds. These young procrastinators went on to build one of the biggest disruptors in the optical products distribution industry.

The concept is pretty straight forward. There are two extreme ends of the work ethic scale, precrastinators and procrastinators. Precrastinators are those that are in a rush to finish their work as the feeling of knowing that the work is done is satisfying. Sitting back and watching your fellow students stressing while you know you are done with the assignment is always a good feeling. These precrastinators tend to plan and think out all the possible scenarios, devise efficient ways of working and planning to get things done on a tight schedule. However, according to Adam, these individuals suffer from a deficiency of information. Rushing into something limits the scope of possible outcomes and relevant information that can be useful. Procrastinators, on the other hand, are those that wait until the last minute to complete a task, they don’t plan, and they tend to forget about deadlines. They are also lazy and often do not complete the task or don’t produce the quality results that they would have if they had planned appropriately. Adam refers to the ‘sweet spot’ of procrastination when being late to the party can actually work in your favour (unless you don’t make it to the party at all).

Taken back by this video, we became intrigued by this concept and pondered over what this could mean. What exactly is the power of procrastination? Having asked each other this question, the natural solution was to implement this experiment in our own lives. Assuming that we weren’t already fully immersed in the idea. Little did we know, we had been using proactive procrastinating moderately throughout our involvement with Snag as a way to spark creativity and develop fresh perspectives. The best example is in writing on our articles. We noticed that by allocating enough time for each article, we would allow ourselves the opportunity to take some time away from the work before returning with ‘fresh eyes’. Through this, the flow of new ideas began to improve and the different angles to approach our articles became more evident.

The point that brings all of this together is the practice of proactive procrastination. Procrastination on its own doesn’t develop ideas or allow more information to come to light, it just means you are avoiding the work. Adam suggests that the key is to be quick to start and slow to finish. When writing articles, the first drafts and even the second drafts are never the same as the final product for us. This is because, even a day after writing the first draft, our perspective and viewpoints have adjusted and altered. We have realized the importance of allocating sufficient time to a task to avoid the pressure of having to complete a task without time to come back to it. Often doing something the first time involves utilising all the surface level information and resources that you have, but like an ice cube floating in the water, this is only a small portion of the bigger picture. By delaying the task, you leave yourself open to the wider range of possible ideas and the freedom to view the topic from multiple perspectives. When you start the task, you create the building blocks in the thought process, but if you dive straight in, often those foundations aren’t good enough. The answer, take time away from the task and do other things – this creates a mental situation where the front of your mind is focused on whatever you’re doing and, in the background, your mind is free to stir up all the information and generate creativity and innovation. “Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas. To think in non-linear ways and to make unexpected leaps”.

When you take the negative notion around ‘procrastination’ away, you will realise that while one might say you’re wasting time, another could argue that you’re simply thinking. This boasts many angles, the fact that thinking without doing is useless or that you’re allowing distraction and you will forget the task, but ultimately it comes down to the fact that if you can have the discipline to not work on something and then allow the correct amount of time in the future to get it done, you can embed new creativity into your thoughts and ideas. Interestingly, Adam compares the failure rates of movers (precrastinators) and improvers (proactive procrastinators). Those that jump into situations and decisions are 47% more likely to fail. Those that delay the decision and proactively procrastinate, are only 3% likely to fail. However, if you take that relationship and break it down to the core of innovation, you can see that your first interaction with a task sparks ideas. Being aware of the task beforehand and then engaging in other activities before returning to the task, allows for the incubation of information to occur which ultimately improves your outcome.

While we discovered interesting and successful results in our recent experience using this technique to spark creativity, there are some downfalls or possible risks with this strategy. Firstly, if you do not leave enough time for yourself to complete the task, you do not open yourself up to receiving a wider range of possible ideas. Secondly, you should keep an open mind throughout the process to make sure you are accepting and appropriately rejecting the necessary new ideas. Lastly, be aware of the risk of using this strategy in multi-person projects or tasks. If there are multiple people working on the same task, time management needs to be efficient and thorough throughout the task’s life. This means that there needs to be constant work on the task because it is a collaborative effort that requires constant interaction back and forth with colleagues to accomplish a goal. It is difficult to rely on another person’s ability or understanding of proactive procrastination. Especially because the two are perceived to be the same on the surface.

Ultimately, the power of procrastination is an extremely interesting topic. It is one that has unexpectedly become a pivotal part of numerous daily tasks in our lives and it is a strategy that, if acknowledge and applied appropriately, has the potential for generating innovation and creativity, otherwise not present when initially taking on a task. However, we are excited and intrigued to see the influence of procrastination on our lives in the near future and how it affects our work performance on a more long-term scale. Test it out yourself and experiment, you never know what benefits you might discover!

Bradley Barrett | LinkedIn & Dylan Cottrill | LinkedIn

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