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 more creative work if they wait until the last minute, rather than planning ahead and managing their time well.
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 calls himself 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. The results of her research are quite promising (you know, if you ever get around to reading it).
As a first step, 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."
So, they dove in deeper. Shin and Grant did a study in which they asked 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.
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.
(I asked Shin what was up with the Minesweeper and Solitaire--how early 1990s! She told me that yes, they used computers with an outdated Windows operating system for the study.)
Read this part later, maybe
Grant opines that the explanation behind all this might be 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.)
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."
All of which suggests that a sort of controlled procrastination might work best.
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.