For the Love of Procrastination
I get asked about creatives and procrastination all the time. No, not asked. Told. I’m told that creatives are really just doing a tiny bit of work at the last possible second, which proves our job is easy.
Trust me. It isn’t.
Let’s put aside the fact that asking someone to come up with a brilliant idea on cue is as ridiculous as asking a cat to bark (yes, I’ve seen the barking cat video and that is just how rare it is). The bigger problem is that it completely waves away the value and necessity of incubation, calling it procrastination. Such a dirty word. Supposedly.
I want to pose a question to all those who are anti-procrastination. If you watched a new form of air transportation be built in front of you in one hour, would you be the first on board?
Now, I’m about to go on quite a long diatribe here and if you don’t have time, I’ll point you to something much shorter, which is Adam Grant’s fantastic TED Talk on “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers.”
If you’re still with me, let’s continue.
There are two things you need to know about me to understand why I feel such conviction about the importance of procrastination; no, three:
- That my mother is a midwife
- That I am almost always late
- That I appear, outwardly, to make decisions quickly
Let’s talk about the first. My mother has been a midwife since I was two. The fun I had explaining conception and menstruation to my fellow preschoolers, we’ll save for another time. I was around a lot of pregnant moms at all stages and all times of the year. Now, at a certain point, the pushing and prodding that these little freeloaders are putting on an otherwise kind and providing mother gets to be old. They want them out. If they’re old enough to kick, they’re old enough to get their own place, right? I was due December 7th and I was born December 20th. It’s not kind. It’s not nice. But the baby is still incubating, needs more time. And what’s the risk of a premature delivery? It’s not good. I learned, staring at the frustrated faces of full-term moms, that outside irritation and pressure will not speed the process. Therefore, I had a lot easier of a time explaining the squishy timeline of the creative process to hurried clients. None of them are as intimidating as a full-term mom. Especially if it happens to be August in the South.
Ok, so about me always being late. I mentioned when I was born. That let everyone know that I do things on my own time. My friends and family understand that if they expect me to be on time for something, they’ll have to pick me up for it. Left to my own devices, I will spend every last second I can doing something else, then leave with far too little time for my expected arrival. Do I procrastinate? I’m sure it looks that way. Am I sitting around doing absolutely nothing? Absolutely not. I’m reading, I’m thinking, I’m ideating, I’m researching my ideas, I’m picking up that thing I meant to put away before, checking my email, responding to someone I forgot to respond to, making sure I know where I’m going, deciding to wear different shoes because it’s cold, so many things. When my mind is running constantly, I’m always working. Sometimes, I get the luxury of working while sitting or laying down. Most of the time, I’m doing quite a bit too. If procrastination really means I’m not sitting at a computer, vomiting my “creative genius” out at exactly the time I was informed about the project, then I procrastinate all day, every day. Cheers!
Let’s move on to number three. I used to think I was very impetuous. I have since found out that the reason I thought that word suited me was because other people take much longer to make decisions. As of yet, it has not taken longer than three days for me to make any major decisions, including the decision to start my business, to buy a car, or even to move to Dallas. At most, three days. I don’t rush my decisions though. I research thoroughly, looking at every angle, forming opinions, and that consumes me for the entirety of that time. I consult others, too, and that can slow me down. In fact, the only times where I have been slowed is because I had to wait on someone else. I believe that one of the reasons why I do this is because I have been a creative person my entire life and realized early on that if it was going to be a profession, I was going to have to get good at doing it on a schedule.
When I take projects, I immediately do something, but it’s not always the same thing. I might start sketching or I might read a magazine. I might jot down a note to keep an idea I had while I move on to something else. I might not work on it at all for days, but my brain brings little flashes of ideas or references from the moment I hear about it. If I didn’t allow for this and had to dive in at my first idea my work would be constantly subpar–unthoughtful and hurried. Who wants to buy that?
If I had rushed into Brass Tacks because I had the spark of the idea, but hadn’t incubated it, would I have made it past the first year? I don’t think so.
So, back to my question about the air transportation. I’d hope your answer is no and I’d hope you’d have a long list of reasons why not. “It was probably slapped together, who knows if it’s safe?” “I don’t know the people building it.” Or “Why would you even want to build something that fast and put people on it?” Of course, the creative process and entrepreneurship isn’t usually a life and death situation; however, I want to pose the “not a zero sum game” rule here. Why would it have to be for us to want incubation? The research, the thought, the consideration, the conversation, why don’t we always want that? You don’t have to like it, like the mother way past her due date, sweating from the inside and begging the baby to come out. You don’t have to like it, but you have to know it’s needed.