Do you do everything at the last minute? Relax, you are creative!

Sound scientific permission to procrastinate!

Trent Lanz | Stocksy United

For many years I lived with feeling guilty that I put many tasks off to the last moment, and therefore something was wrong with me, especially since my husband did everything right away, as did most of my friends. And I live among them according to the principle, “What I can do today, I will do tomorrow, and I will have one day off.”

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Everything began with my master’s thesis, which I finished the day I was supposed to hand it in. Of course that was the day my printer broke, and as a result, I handed it in at the very last minute. Then for several years, I worked in editorial offices, but rarely writing articles, so I never noticed that something was wrong. That is until I became a freelancer and started working as a journalist for various magazines. Each time I would start writing an article a few hours before the deadline. I would sit down in front of the computer only when the level of stress—that I might not make it—reached its zenith. This does not mean that I did not think about the topic earlier, I certainly did. I collected the materials, met with people, questioned experts, etc. And then I waited until I felt a lump in my throat. Only then could I start writing. And the strangest thing is that editors did not complain. But I still couldn’t help feel there was something wrong with me.

A bit of theory

Long ago I discovered a word, which, while it sounds nice, does not mean anything good—procrastination. According to the psychologists, it is a disorder involving putting off tasks for a later time, and then finally doing something at the last minute, or sometimes not at all. Procrastination in extreme cases can lead to a state of neurosis or even depression. Those affected repeat the same pattern each time—they put off what they need to do for another day, looking for various excuses to justify the lack of action. They do the work at the last moment, or not at all. Each time they promise themselves that they will never again work this way, then they follow the same path next time. Often they have feelings of anger toward themselves, guilt, and shame.

Martin Luther King added the famous “I Have a Dream” to the historical speech right before he gave it during the March on Washington.

The reasons are different—it could be a tendency to perfectionism, a lack of self-esteem, a fear of success or of making a mistake, or need for a sort of adrenaline-fueled stress.

According to psychologists, procrastination in the advanced form requires therapy. I began to wonder whether I was a candidate for that. The biggest problem I had was not so much dealing with the procrastination, but the peer pressure to work like everyone else and do something about my habitual delay tactics.

Better late than too early

In the spring of this year, Independent published an article citing Adam Grant, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, who was one of the first scientists to appreciate procrastination. While writing his book Originals: How non-conformists change the world, Grant discovered that the most creative people delay performing the action until the moment when the best solution comes to mind.

The most famous procrastinators in history include Leonardo da Vinci, who painted his masterpieces for many years, taking long breaks between one stroke of the brush and another during the painting of Mona Lisa, while he was perfecting technique. Martin Luther King added the famous “I Have a Dream” to the historical speech right before he gave it during the March on Washington.

The first ideas that come to our heads are rarely creative. The most interesting ones come after some time.

“Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps,” says the scientist. Grant himself identifies as a precrastinator, or a person who has to do everything immediately. In one of his articles published in the New York Times, he admits, that his entire life he believed that everything should be done earlier. “Throughout my studies, I turned in all the assignments before the deadline, including my thesis, which I turned in four months before the due date. My roommates joked that I have a productive form of obsessive-compulsive disorder,” Grant wrote. In his opinion, precrastination is a need to immediately start the assignment, to be done as soon as possible. And if for the procrastinator delaying action is the norm, for a precrastinator it generates tremendous stress.

It turns out, however, that the first ideas that come to our heads are rarely creative. The most interesting ones come after some time.

This may be related to the phenomenon of incubation, as identified by cognitive psychology. Incubation is a moment of rest following intensive attempts to solve a problem. It increases mental flexibility, allowing for insight, or sudden understanding of the nature of something, which is often a result of a new approach to the matter. With incubation, we get rid of the unimportant details and keep the most important aspects, and fresh memories have time to integrate with older ones. New stimuli may trigger a new way to see the problem or let us see an analogy necessary to solve the problem. My grandmother used to say, rightfully so, that if I have a problem I should sleep on it, and the solution will come on its own. This works great in my professional life. Of course only if we don’t sleep too long because then only therapy can save us.

Katarzyna Kozak
Katarzyna Kozak
Katarzyna is a journalist covering psycho-oncology and Great Britain. She loves travel, the mountains, and the Polish Jura. She lives with her husband and her not entirely tamed cat.

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