Does that string of words create a sigh of relief? Or a frown of disapproval? Or maybe, a question: just what could this psychologist be thinking?

    First, it’s not my idea — more to come on that. And second, I hear a quite major sigh of relief from myself! Because? Well, because I DO PROCRASTINATE. And historically, I worry about it. Even now, with some fascinating research to share, I’m still concerned about my own behavior.

    Wharton professor, Dr. Adam Grant‘s new book, ORIGINALS – HOW NON-CONFORMISTS MOVE THE WORLD…is my source. Or perhaps my reprieve — psychologically, that is. Reading his book is causing me to re-examine, and perhaps re-evaluate, my own behavior… It might be of use to you as well.

    Grant describes a doctoral student, Jihae Shin who proposed “that when you put off a a task, you buy yourself time to engage in divergent thinking rather than foreclosing on one particular idea.” Naturally, this hypothesis was tested AND explored AND investigated. I leave you to the book for all the details from research and history and personal stories; but here’s the best “take away” concept to examine in your own behavior:

    “Procrastination may be the enemy of productivity, but it can be a resource for creativity.”

    The belief, with some pretty hefty supporting evidence, is that procrastinating, or perhaps, simply taking a chunk of time away from the completion of a task, has a positive impact on thinking. You engage in divergent thinking, and that process can result in a more satisfying outcome. There is, indeed, a delay, but the final product is better — more effective, more creative. Consider some unfinished task, project, job –something you’ve walked away from because it wasn’t coming together — a report, a paper, a big project at work, a presentation — and the reality that when you came back to work on it, either hours or perhaps days later, it had new energy, juice, direction — and the outcome was far better than you hoped for….

    I’m tempted to apply the concept to the fact I walk away from, and rationalize, cleaning my closet, but I think that’s stretching the point of important research. BUT, my quite serious experience is struggling with the final organization of a speech or presentation for over a week and just not being able to finish it to my satisfaction — even the night before. That means going to bed frustrated and a bit stressed. Then the next morning in the shower I completely re-write the thing IN MY HEAD! And I’m happy with it!
    I can also own this process with all three of my books. Each one had a completed, edited, but for me unsatisfactory draft ages and ages before completing the final draft. You might say, define ages and ages? I walked away from one of them for over a year! And I like to think the time away improved it.  Regardless, until I read Grant’s book, I would have defined this process as “terrible procrastination” — or writer’s block — maybe even being bored with the project….today, I’m re-examining my thoughts about it. Would I prefer to start and finish something I’m writing in a reasonable amount of time? Yes! But do I see a different way of looking at my procrastination? Yes …. I just don’t want to apply the concept incorrectly… so the jury on ME is still out!
    Consider your own behavior. What if you allow the point of view of putting a creative task away for a bit as potentially positive….giving your brain, your creative thoughts time to “perk” a bit longer? And most importantly, what if you give up “beating up on yourself” for procrastinating.  Re-frame your thinking. Throw out the negative thought distortions…. see what impact it has to value the time away from the task. Just don’t make the mistake of applying the idea to (like my closet) avoiding onerous tasks like cleaning the garage!
    And read Grant’s book…actually books… his first book GIVE AND TAKE is also a useful source for understanding reciprocity. And if you need a short cut to ORIGINALS, see his TED TALK-The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers.