The Unexpected Secret To Great Creative Work

Why procrastination and timing are key to doing great work.

Photo by Rebecca Grant on Unsplash

Procrastinate or Perish

Recently, I realised that procrastinating has a bad rap, but sometimes it’s exactly what you need to do when you feel low on energy or inspiration.

‘Procrastination may be the enemy of productivity, but it can be a resource for creativity. Long before the modern obsession with efficiency precipitated by the Industrial Revolution and the Protestant work ethic, civilizations recognized the benefits of procrastination. In ancient Egypt, there were two different verbs for procrastination: one denoted laziness; the other meant waiting for the right time.’ — Adam Grant, Originals

I realised that my mind had needed time to work on the problem in the background, to sift subconsciously through all the bits and pieces, away from the analytical and judgmental gaze of my full attention.

The Da Vinci Strategy

Procrastination + Timing

Da Vinci was interested in the world around him and lived by his credo ‘that everything connects to everything else’. At any one time, he was writing, drawing, painting, designing, studying, sculpting, teaching, and certainly procrastinating.

‘Therefore I wait. Within my earnest thought
For years upon this picture I have wrought,
Yet still it is not ripe; I dare not paint
Till all is ordered and matured within.’

— William W Story, Poems of Places: Italy

In the face of external pressure to get his picture done, he waited. Da Vinci saw the importance of waiting ‘till all is ordered and matured within’ before continuing work on The Last Supper, and the proof is in the pudding.

The Productivity Problem

There’s currently a ton of pressure to be productive. But, what constitutes a productive use of your time? If you’ve got a goal or a project, being productive by today’s standards seems to be about churning out tangible proof of the time you’ve spent working on that one pursuit or project. The problem is that time spent on a project and ticks on a to-do list don’t translate into quality work.

‘Recently, an unusually creative doctoral student named Jihae Shin approached me with a counterintuitive idea: procrastination might be conducive to originality. When you procrastinate, you’re intentionally delaying work that needs to be done. You might be thinking about the task, but you postpone making real progress on it or finishing it to do something less productive. Shin proposed that when you put off a task, you buy yourself time to engage in divergent thinking rather than foreclosing on one particular idea. As a result, you consider a wider range of original concepts and ultimately choose a more novel direction.’ — Adam Grant, Originals

The genius of Da Vinci may well have had a lot to do with procrastination and his willingness to follow other interests. He knew the importance of waiting for the right time to work on his projects, and he wasn’t afraid to fill that time with other activities and hobbies.

Takeaway

If you find yourself working on one project with ideas flowing and magic materialising, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. No, that means you’re in the zone. That’s great!

Consultant at work, writer at heart. Interested in creative, intentional living. https://veritymarques.substack.com/

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