Want to Be More Creative? This Research Says You Should Procrastinate More


Do you tend to put things off until the last minute?

Don’t answer yet. (Ha ha.)

Kidding aside, there’s good news for procrastinators. Ongoing research suggests people might actually do better work if they wait until the last minute, rather than planning ahead and if they planned ahead and managed their time well–at least, that is, if the work itself involves creativity.

Procrastination vs. Pre-crastination

This is all according to Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at Wharton (and an occasional Inc.com contributor).

In a recent New York Times article, Grant says he’s not a natural procrastinator–in fact, he’s a “pre-crastinator.” (The fact that his new book Originals is already a #1 bestseller on Amazon–weeks head of its release date–might be good evidence of that.)

But one of his former students, Jihae Shin–who is now a professor herself at the University of Wisconsin–challenged him on his “pre-crastination” tendencies.

He in turn challenged her to back up her ideas. The results of her research will make you feel good if you’re a procrastinator. (Well, it will make you feel good whenever you get around to finishing this article, anyway.)

Study No. 1:

Shin “surveyed people on how often they procrastinated” at several companies, and “asked their supervisors to rate their creativity,” Grant writes.

Good news: “Procrastinators earned significantly higher creativity scores than pre-crastinators.”

Study No. 2:

Shin and Grant came up with an experiment together this time, in which they asked study participants to come up with new business ideas. Only, they cut the group into sections.

Some were told to start writing their business ideas right away.

“Others were given five minutes to first play Minesweeper or Solitaire,” Grant writes, before they wrote their plans.

(Time out–we’ll get back to the procrastination thing in a second–but the Minesweeper and Solitaire thing is kind of weird, right? Did Grant and Shin procrastinate to the point that they never upgraded their operating system since Windows 3.1?

I reached out to Grant’s student, Shin, and asked what’s up with Minesweeper and Solitaire. Sure enough, she told me,”we were using an older version of Windows to run the experiment.”)

Okay, back to the story.

In the experiment, independent judges weighed how creative the business ideas were. Results? The people who were told to put off working until they’d played early 1990s-era video games for a while came up with ideas that were 28 percent more creative.

Read this part later, maybe

Grant opines that the difference is that initial ideas are usually the most conventional. And he points out that some big thinkers are known as chronic procrastinators (Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Aaron Sorkin for example.)

So is that it? Does procrastination always lead to creativity?

Maybe the better lesson is that his colleague Shin had assigned some participants in her business idea plan to wait until the last minute to start. Their ideas weren’t as creative, because “they had to rush to implement the easiest idea instead of working out a novel one.”

Grant’s overall advice:

  • Imagine when you start what it would be like if you failed spectacularly. Your fear might “jump-start your engine.”
  • Break projects into small steps, and define progress as you go along.
  • Accomplish work in small periods of time
  • Make a commitment to achieve ahead of time, and stick to it.

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