Creativity, Inspiration, Writing
Making Procrastination Work for You
How to use procrastination to be more creative and get more done.
Do you procrastinate? Always wait to start a project until the day or two before it’s due?
From the time we’re young, school and parents teach us not to leave homework and projects until the last minute. But every parent remembers the Sunday night scramble. Or if your kids were expert procrastinators, the Monday morning scramble.
This is how it went in our household:
Sunday night our family enjoys a nice dinner together and is cleaning up and getting ready for bed. The teenagers, as usual, didn’t have much to say at the dinner table. Sure, they talked about stuff like the video games they’re playing, or how they’re going fishing with our neighbor next weekend. But in all, they are sullen and quiet.
Then after we’re in pajamas and in bed we hear the stomping of one of the teens up the stairs. We cringe. Then we hear The Knock. The Knock is the teen version of the infant’s 3 a.m. feeding. So much for sleep!
You know you won’t be getting any sleep tonight, because the next words out of their mouth will be something like “I forgot I have a huge project due tomorrow and I haven’t started it” followed by “will you help me?”
Parents of teens know that if they actually request to do something with you, you drop everything (including sleep) and do it. Because it’s not often teens actually initiate time with their parents, so we need to enjoy these moments as they come.
Unfortunately, procrastination isn’t unique to teens. As adults, we’re all susceptible to procrastination from time to time. Especially if the project we need to do is boring, long, or there are other activities that are more enticing (or require our attention) around us.
For example, my husband took a college creative writing class for his job. Between working close to fifty hours per week and going to class, sometimes he was short on time to finish his homework.
One day he had a report due. I knew it in his eyes as he was leaving for class that he had just remembered this fact. I just shook my head and sent him off on his way.
This is how it went at class that night, by his account. (Imagine a big bald guy, pale from working under fluorescent cubicle lighting) When it was his turn to read his report he stood up at his desk and said, “I did my report on organization and procrastination in the workplace.”
Then he sat back down.
The class was silent for a moment. Then his teacher started laughing and the rest of the class followed. He got an A on that report and in the class!
So is procrastination really all that bad?
I’ve found I love writing challenges, competitions, and entering writing contests. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that these feel just like procrastination.
Think about it.
When you find a writing contest to enter, it has a deadline. Usually, a very close deadline. So you stop the project you’re working on and start writing the piece for the contest.
You get the same deadline buzz as if you had procrastinated until days before a regular deadline.
Same thing with writing challenges like NaNoWriMo. You have a deadline, you know how many words you have to write each day to get to the 50,000-word win. But life tends to get in the way and it’s a pretty sure bet that sometime during the month of November you’ll get behind in your word count and you’ll have to scramble to catch up.
This always gives me that creative buzz as well. As my brain scrambles to catch up, it comes up with ideas I would never have thought of if I wasn’t under a time crunch.
And I get things done!
Using activities like challenges, competitions, and contests to create a sense of creative procrastination also has another benefit. If you have a narrower timeframe to finish a project, you have a better grasp and memory of what you’re writing each day. Whereas if you had stretched out this project over months, you might have to revisit what you’ve created more often to remember where you left off. (Especially those of us who have brain fog often!).
Before I start a novel I love to do research, mind map, and outline. This gives me a good idea where I want to start and end and the points in between. It’s like building a house, where you begin by drawing up plans before you pour the foundation. Then once you’ve got your project organized (the walls up), then you can start creating and building.
This way if procrastination hits, or a deadline changes, I still have my story ready to go. Unlike “pantsers” who don’t outline before they write, I can afford some procrastination time in my project. If a pantser hits a procrastination wall, they might get sidelined on their project for much longer.
Is it still procrastinating if you outline and research your novel, but then take a break in the middle of it?
Yes, because procrastination can be part of the creative process, not an enemy of it. There is that fine line between procrastinating too much which doesn’t get enough done, and not procrastinating enough which gives you that delicious energy boost. Adam Grant talks about this middle ground in his TED talk.
As creatives, if we learn not to let procrastination completely stop us in our tracks, it can be used for good. Forcing ourselves into a shorter deadline due to procrastination, joining a challenge or competition, or entering a contest can all give us the creative boost we need.
Imagination only comes when you privilege the subconscious, when you make delay and procrastination work for you. — Hilary Mantel