“Never put off till tomorrow what you can put off till the day after tomorrow.” Mark Twain
I have a little green notebook that I keep in the bag I carry with me to and from work. In that green notebook I write down ideas, thoughts and quotes I pick up from things I read, hear or observe. Right now, one of the books I’m reading is Originals by Adam Grant. Two quotes jumped out at me today.
Quote 1 (actually this is a quote of a quote as Grant quotes historian William Pannapacker who refers to Leonardo Da Vinci’s propensity to postpone and procrastinate) – “Productive mediocrity requires discipline of an ordinary kind. It is safe and threatens no one. Nothing will be changed by mediocrity… But genius is uncontrolled and uncontrollable. You cannot produce a work of genius according to a schedule or outline.”
Quote 2 – “Great originals are great procrastinators…”
If you know me well you’ll know why these two quotes appeal to me. I am a world class procrastinator J. Deadlines and schedules make me nervous. My best work comes from spontaneity, intuition and flexibility. Now I have it in black and white, from a professor of organizational psychology (Grant has been voted as one of the top 25 most influential management thinkers in the world today) that my, “put it off till later,” approach to challenges is not only valid, but may also be conducive to finding some of the most creative and best solutions.
Here are some of the benefits of procrastination:
- Incubation time – it allows time for ideas to mature and develop, often in unexpected ways. Grant mentions the Zeigarnik effect (named after the Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik) which demonstrates that people remember tasks they have not completed better than those they have completed.
- Helps stave off premature conclusions.
- Encourages creativity and flexibility – While ideas are incubating other thoughts, ideas and impulses may disrupt some of our initial thoughts and cause us to re-evaluate and adjust. Working internationally, and often with diplomats and politicians, I’ve found that being flexible and able to find new solutions has been an invaluable skill.
- Breeds openness for new approaches. Procrastination helps us to not get caught in the trap of choosing only one solution at the cost of other equally good, if not better, solutions that fit the timing or context best.
All my life I’ve equated procrastination with laziness. Perhaps I need to re-evaluate my presumption on this issue and embrace more of the positive aspects of procrastination. Grant points out that ancient Egyptians had two words for procrastination; the first meant to be lazy, but the other had to do with waiting for the right time.
Nevertheless, very few rules or theories are without exceptions or modifications. I find that balance in life is an important virtue. Quote 2 above is only half of the quote in Grant’s book. The full quote is – “Great originals are great procrastinators, but they don’t skip planning altogether.” So before I go overboard on expounding on the virtues of procrastination, I should contemplate the benefits and uses of down to earth, methodical, planned out work, as well.
I think I’ll put that contemplation off till tomorrow or the next day :-).