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Can Procrastination Help Improve Your Creativity?

written by: Marjory Pilley • edited by: Ginny Edwards • updated: 6/27/2011

If you are working on an assignment that calls for creativity, then building a period of inactivity into the workflow is not only unavoidable, it is desirable. But, make sure to pause at the "right" time and make good use of your downtime to be successful.

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    The Science Behind Creativity

    Have you ever noticed that your best and most creative ideas seem to come...when you are in the shower, taking a walk or fast asleep. The epiphany comes after some amount of delay. Maybe the current solution didn't seem quite right or left you feeling unenthusiastic. It's likely not a result of inadequate research or lack of commitment. And, the delay may occur in spite of habits instilled to inspire creativity. Instead, enough time may not have passed for a new and inventive solution.

    During a seemingly quiet period, the mind is actually working very hard. New connections are being made. Old ideas and beliefs begin to mingle with new information that has been learned, perhaps from a conversation you had with someone or a new hobby you've taken up. The new information can even be completely unrelated to the problem at hand. According to Robert Epstein, who proposed the generativity theory, novel ideas are the result of dynamic interactions of previously established behaviors. In order to move forward, it takes time. Procrastination and creativity must coincide.

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    The Best Time to Procrastinate

    Schedule time for creativity. Whether you are writing a paper, creating a software program or designing an ad campaign, the ideal creative workflow follows a fairly predictable pattern. Depending upon the circumstances, some steps may take longer or some may be combined. The process must be tweaked to fit the person and the assignment. But, if a creative result is desired, a period of "planned creativity" must be built into the process. The following sequence works well for many people:

    1. Receive an assignment. During this time obtain background information, learn expectations, determine the deadline and receive any related information that will be helpful. Don't procrastinate here--get what you need and move to the next step.
    2. Perform initial research. Ask more questions and research particular aspects of the problem. A complicated issue may require a longer research period. Don't delay this step unnecessarily--once you have the basics you can move to the next step. You can do further research later in the process as needed.
    3. Formulate an initial plan. This step may take the form of mind mapping, creating a storyboard or outlining the solution. It's your initial draft--so keep moving. Don't procrastinate here.
    4. Begin work on the first draft. Unproductive procrastination often occurs at this point. It's important to push through and prepare a good working copy of the work product. Don't worry about it being perfect or whether it contains everything you need. Just push yourself hard to get something completed. Stay motivated and on task.
    5. Set the task aside. This is it! This is the step where calculated inactivity--procrastination--can be used to your benefit. You may not know it, but thoughts and ideas have been put into motion. Determine the appropriate amount of time to wait before you pick the assignment back up.
    6. Review work performed to date and finish the assignment. At the designated time, even if you don't feel inspired, pick up where you left off. Refine and finalize the work product. If you haven't experienced a spontaneous spurt of creativity prior to this point, don't worry. It may very well occur while you are finishing the assignment. Don't procrastinate now...work hard to meet the deadline.

    You may need to circle back and do additional research or several drafts. However, this is a basic workflow that shows you how to build a period of calculated inactivity into an assignment. If you find yourself procrastinating when you really should be working...try these tips to overcome procrastination.

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    Tips for Success

    If you allow yourself to consistently follow, or systemize, a creative process like the one discussed above, your productivity will soar. But, you must make the most of your downtime. Here are some suggestions:

    1. Do something productive during periods of calculated inactivity. Use this downtime to complete other important tasks such as checking emails, returning phone calls, etc.
    2. Stagger assignments so that various tasks are at different stages of the creative workflow process. For example, you can have one task in the research phase, one in the draft stage, while a third is on hold for a period of inactivity.
    3. Learn how to jumpstart the creative process. Sometimes you don't have the luxury of a 2 day period to mull over something; you have just 2 hours. See what works for you so that procrastination never works against your creativity.
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    References and Resources

    References:

    • Epstein, Robert. The big book of creativity games: quick, fun activities for jumpstarting innovation. New York [etc.: McGraw-Hill, 2000. Print.
    • Thompson, Charles. What a great idea! 2.0: unlocking your creativity in business and in life. [Rev. and updated]. ed. New York: Sterling Pub., 2007. Print.

    Image Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1182879

Procrastination Resources and Strategies

Learn to analyze and address procrastination with this series of articles that provides tips and strategies to avoid it, examples of good delays, the connection to creativity and more.
  1. How to "Procrastination Proof" Your Next Project
  2. When Procrastination is Helpful: A Look at Some Examples
  3. Can Procrastination Help Improve Your Creativity?
  4. Procrastination at Work: Quotes that Rally Action and Make You Smile
  5. Anti-Procrastination Tips for Project Managers