“Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.” MARK TWAIN
Here’s a counterintuitive idea: Could it be that procrastination is beneficial to originality. When you procrastinate, you intentionally delay work that needs to be done. You might be thinking about the task, but you postpone working on it or completing it to do something less productive. When you put off a task, you actually buy yourself time to engage in divergent thinking rather than settling on one specific idea. As a result, you consider a wider range of concepts and ultimately choose a more novel direction. Psychologist and author Adam Grant challenged doctoral student Jihae Shin to test this idea.
Shin asked college students to write proposals for a business on a university campus to fill a location vacated by a convenience store. When they started the task, they tended to propose conventional ideas — like another convenience store. When Shin randomly assigned some of the participants to procrastinate, putting off the task to play computer games like Minesweeper, FreeCell and Solitaire, they produced more novel business ideas, like a tutoring center and a storage facility. Independent raters evaluated the final proposals, without knowing who procrastinated and who started immediately. The proposals from the procrastinators were deemed 28 percent more creative.
While excited by these results, the concern was procrastination wasn’t the real cause of creativity. Perhaps simply playing the games provided additional mental stimulation, giving people the energy or time away from the task to think more creatively.
However, the experiment ultimately showed that neither playing games nor taking a break boosted creativity. When people played games first, then learned about the task, they didn’t submit more novel proposals. To come up with original ideas, they needed to actually be procrastinating while playing the games, keeping the task in the back of their minds. Delaying progress, while engaged in another activity, enabled them to spend more time considering different ways to accomplish it, rather than “seizing and freezing” on one particular strategy.
Now … don’t you feel better about procrastinating.
Adapted from Original by Adam Grant