Because sometimes, procrastination isn't procrastination.
Procrastination has gotten a bad rap. And, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the badness of it, and to browbeat ourselves over it. I get it. I’m an experienced perpetrator, judge and jury when it comes to the subject of procrastination, often handing down my own verdict: Bad Writer!
As I’ve mentioned here I’ve been working on a memoir. And, for a while it was simply pouring out of me.
Until it wasn’t. It’s like the river of ideas just stopped flowing. I fell into what most people would call the abyss of procrastination, which kind of fascinated me, to be honest. I'd start by beating myself up, then by trying to pep myself up and then just giving up. It was a cycle that went on for days.
Then I realized, I was talking about the story with everyone I know, flushing out an idea for a title, discussing through lines, themes and what was underneath certain scenes, asking my family about specific events from childhood, clarifying my memory. The fact is, I’m thinking about this memoir all the time, like a hundred times a day. Also, I read some books about writing memoirs and connected with other memoirists to discuss various aspects of the genre.
That’s when it hit me. This is my process, not my procrastination. And, not just about writing. This is the way process shows up in every area of my life.
So, when isn’t procrastination, procrastination? When it’s part of process.
The truth is, I noodle. And, I noodle, and then I noodle some more. Then, the pieces start to fit into place, like a mystery puzzle when you don’t exactly know what it’s going to look like completed. At that point, often the project really cranks, like it has a mind of its own, until it's a little jewel of creation. It becomes the product of what I now call Productive Procrastination.
Ah, there’s a reframe!
I think this new recognition of procrastination deserves some love here. Productive procrastinating can actually be very helpful.
I ran across three TED Talks recently that sparked more thought along these lines.
One of my favorite TED Talks, "Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator", Tim Urban talks about what happens when we procrastinate and how the "instant gratification monkey mind" takes the wheel, involving us in everything except what we're wanting to get done. Fellow procrastinators, this talk is a must-see. It's hilarious and my guess is you'll see yourself in what he describes.
I say the monkey mind can be a great friend to creative productive procrastination.
In a fascinating TED Talk, “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers,” psychologist Adam Grant concluded that some of the most original and creative thinkers procrastinate, they incubate. “Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in non-linear ways, to make unexpected leaps.” He says, “Procrastination can be a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue for creativity." As a result of this process, "some of most creative people are fast to start and slow to finish." Yes!
The creative process is not rational, “the true essence of creativity is unexpectedness.”
That really takes the pressure off. Some of the most brilliant people I know are 11th hour geniuses. No matter how much time they have, they continually pull off brilliance at the last minute.
Author Manoush Zomorodi in her TED Talk “How Boredom Can Lead to Brilliant Ideas,” says, when you engage in mundane tasks you enter “default mode. Your body goes on autopilot and your brain gets busy forming new neural connections that connect ideas and solve problems.” You can probably recall times when THE idea or solution or word or thing came to you while you were doing something mundane, or by rote, like driving or taking a shower. Not that you should be bored while you’re driving, but your body is on autopilot so your mind can wander somewhat.
So, here are some ways to be a Productive Procrastinator:
- Get bored. Do nothing. Stare at the wall. And...
- Be still and just think. That’s it. Just noodle. Don’t take notes, don’t try and catch a thought. Just allow your mind to travel. Set a timer if you want to. Know that you’ll remember what you’re supposed to remember.
“You call it procrastinating, I call it thinking.” Aaron Sorkin
- Engage is some mundane, autopilot tasks: laundry, dishes, mow the lawn, any by-rote physical task.
- Allow your imagination to take flight. This time take notes. No editing. No judging. Just free associate, mind to paper.
- Be in nature. Being around such alive energy, it’s definitely where I do some of my best noodling.
- Idea-storm, word-storm and brainstorm with others.
- Keep trying new ideas and fresh ways to look at things. Sometimes it’ll take several passes before it’s the winner.
- Know that “bad” ideas are simply pre-great ideas.
Remember, reflection is the Productive Procrastinator’s secret weapon. It's how ideas germinate and generate.
Then, put your project on your dance card. Make an appointment with yourself to get back to work on moving your project forward.
And, relax. There will be plenty of time to procrastinate again!