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Science

How Procrastination Can Be Good For You (nytimes.com) 94

HughPickens.com writes: Over 80 percent of college students are plagued by procrastination, requiring epic all-nighters to finish papers and prepare for tests. Roughly 20 percent of adults report being chronic procrastinators. But Adam Grant writes in the NY Times that while we think of procrastination as a curse for productivity, procrastination is really a virtue for creativity. According to Grant, our first ideas are usually our most conventional -- but when you procrastinate, you're more likely to let your mind wander, giving you a better chance of stumbling onto the unusual and spotting unexpected patterns. "When we finish a project, we file it away. But when it's in limbo, it stays active in our minds." Jihae Shin designed some experiments. She asked people to come up with new business ideas. Some were randomly assigned to start right away. Others were given five minutes to first play Minesweeper or Solitaire. Everyone submitted their ideas, and independent raters evaluated how original they were. The procrastinators' ideas were 28 percent more creative. When people played games before being told about the task, there was no increase in creativity. It was only when they first learned about the task and then put it off that they considered more novel ideas. It turned out that procrastination encouraged divergent thinking.

Even some monumental achievements are helped by procrastination. Grant says that according to those who knew him, Steve Jobs procrastinated constantly. Bill Clinton has been described as a "chronic procrastinator" who waits until the last minute to revise his speeches, and Frank Lloyd Wright spent almost a year procrastinating on a commission, to the point that his patron drove out and insisted that he produce a drawing on the spot. It became Fallingwater, Wright's masterpiece. Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter behind Steve Jobs and The West Wing, is known to put off writing until the last minute. When Katie Couric asked him about it, he replied, "You call it procrastination, I call it thinking."

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How Procrastination Can Be Good For You

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  • oblig (Score:5, Funny)

    by stealth_finger ( 1809752 ) on Sunday January 17, 2016 @06:39AM (#51317173)
    I would rtfa, but I'll do it later.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I would rtfa, but I'll do it later.

      Almost the entirety of relevant content is included in the summary.

      • I am 28.653 % more creative then you
    • I've got a great reply for you.... stay tuned.

    • I would rtfa, but I'll do it later.

      Yeah, early this week, sometime before Thursday, or at least on Thursday. That is unless there's a lot of unexpected work before then in which case there is always Friday.

      Definitely getting to it.

      • by ls671 ( 1122017 )

        Procrastination led me to be able to code for 24 hours or more in a row while staying productive. Handy when an unplanned emergency occurs. Some co-workers wonder how I can do it.

        • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
          More than likely, you just so happen to do well when working in longer bursts. Much research has gone into the subject of working for long stretches like you, and it all says most people do horribly and never get better at it. It's not something that is learned, it is something that you are.

          The funny thing about most research is that it attempts to treat everyone the same way when everyone have different ranges of strengths and weaknesses.
          • by ls671 ( 1122017 )

            Very interesting. Thank you.

            Now we would need to find out what percentage of procrastinators are able to work in long stretches and vice-versa then, try to establish if there is any relation between the 2.

        • Speaking of procrastination... I've been putting off looking for a really
          good nootropic stack that is cheap and effective and can be obtained easily
          at brick and mortor places like CVS/RiteAID/Target/Walmart. I would like to
          hear your stack suggestions and some usage notes.

        • Procrastination led me to be able to code for 24 hours or more in a row while staying productive. Handy when an unplanned emergency occurs. Some co-workers wonder how I can do it.

          I consider it a major achievement staying awake for 24 hours in a row using drugs and talking utter bollocks. God knows how you manage to actually do any work.

          • by ls671 ( 1122017 )

            Well, I am pretty old school but I have to admit I drink a bit of coffee. I can catch up on the sleep I need afterward by sleeping 18 to 24 hours in a row so in the end I sleep as much as you do if not more.

            See the reply above where the poster mention that there is actually studies about people able to work in long stretches. He says that you are actually born like that when you can do it.

    • First post! (9th draft)

      Note to self: better turn this in now, it's as good as it's going to get. It's way past the deadline, but better late then never.

  • Why put off till tomorrow what can be done the day after?
  • by johnsnails ( 1715452 ) on Sunday January 17, 2016 @06:47AM (#51317187)
    Procrastination is my sin, it brings me naught but sorrow, I know that I should stop it, in fact I will tomorrow.
  • by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Sunday January 17, 2016 @06:51AM (#51317193)

    I don't think this applies when the thing you are supposed to be doing but aren't doing is not something creative (like writing code) but instead something simple (like when you are playing Fallout 4 instead of dealing with dirty dishes, dirty clothes and a dirty apartment :)

    • by alphatel ( 1450715 ) * on Sunday January 17, 2016 @07:02AM (#51317205)

      I don't think this applies when the thing you are supposed to be doing but aren't doing is not something creative (like writing code) but instead something simple (like when you are playing Fallout 4 instead of dealing with dirty dishes, dirty clothes and a dirty apartment :)

      I bet the guy who invented those fancy disposable plates had a week's worth of dishes waiting for him.

      • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday January 17, 2016 @02:10PM (#51318297)

        I bet the guy who invented those fancy disposable plates had a week's worth of dishes waiting for him.

        I had a sink full of dirty dishes when I came up with the idea of throwing them all out except for one plate, one fork, one cup. That way, the next time I ate I had to wash them, because there was nothing else to use. I never had a sink full of dirty dishes again. There would have been a problem if I had company over, but that never happened anyway.

        • There would have been a problem if I had company over, but that never happened anyway.

          As this is slashdot, that is redudant information, like saying "but I never had sex with a whole professional cheerleading team at once".

    • I think some of the chronic Fallout 4 players have come up with very efficient solutions to housecleaning, such as: don't. Build up your immune system against common pathogens that grow on dirty dishes - reuse them instead, develop a circle of friends who don't care how you look or smell or what state your apartment is in. Others get their mothers / girlfriends to do the cleaning for them.

      • Develop a circle of friends that doesn't know how you look or smell. Fuck, why do you think we invented this internet thing?

    • I don't think it applies at all really. At least the experiment doesn't really show much. 5 minutes of minesweep instead of starting straight away is not really your typical procrastination is it? It is more like allowing yourself to wind down. The typical procrastination when there is not time limit, is more like at least 2 years of I will get around to it. If there is a time limit, the work is usually done at the last moment, not allowing your sleep deprived mind, to have breaks.

      There is no reason to thin

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        I did not really bother with the article at all because I know full well, my greatest burst of creativity occurs when first given the problem, there in after it wains as I focus on implementation. After years in private that focus on implementation kills creativity because good enough dominates so that new problems can be tackled. That also occurred in school where projects generating no new knowledge were simply fit in to take up minimal time, achieving the required minimum grade and thus sparing as much

  • by Pikoro ( 844299 ) <initNO@SPAMinit.sh> on Sunday January 17, 2016 @07:04AM (#51317209) Homepage Journal

    I'll be putting off my death as long as possible. That makes it healthy.

    • by pjt33 ( 739471 )

      Then there's creative procrastination. That's when, to put off making that phone call you're dreading, you do the dishes instead.

  • I have a rather mundane, obvious reply to this article. But I can't be bothered to type it all out right now.

    Please come back tomorrow, when I write an instant "+5 Insightful" comment in its place.

    Yaz

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "chronic procrastinator"

    Is that what you kids call it these days?

    • if the best he could come up with after his procrastination was: "i did not have sexual relations with that woman" I think i'll stop procrastinating and get on with stuff.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 17, 2016 @07:21AM (#51317235)
    I can't tell you how many times I've been asked to do some task, and after putting it off as long as possible find out it no longer was necessary or that the instructions had changed so much that I would have had to redo it, had I originally dropped everything and performed the requested task. There is kind of a fine line, but I've reached the conclusion that, used properly, procrastination is a useful tool to minimize the amount of inefficiency others can inflict upon you.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Rei ( 128717 )

      I've had this experience with my house design a lot.

      I've been held up by a construction boom leaving the country's architects overworked - the year before last I went through three of them because they weren't getting anything done. Last year I decided not to switch again (and thus have to begin from the beginning each time) and it took my architect 11 months to even get to the stage where we need to bring the engineer in. And before that there were lots of delays in finding and buying the property to begin

      • by Bongo ( 13261 )

        Heh, cool.

        When I was studying architecture, they told us the story of the industrialist CEO who called in a tech to replace the doorknob to his office.
        A week later the tech comes back and says, "you know, I've been thinking about the doorknob, and the problem isn't really the doorknob, it is the way the door works."
        So the CEO agrees and asks the tech to work on the door.
        A week later the tech comes back and says, "you know, I've been thinking about the door, and the problem isn't really the door, it is the l

      • Do you have a link to your project?

    • by jafiwam ( 310805 )

      I can't tell you how many times I've been asked to do some task, and after putting it off as long as possible find out it no longer was necessary or that the instructions had changed so much that I would have had to redo it, had I originally dropped everything and performed the requested task. There is kind of a fine line, but I've reached the conclusion that, used properly, procrastination is a useful tool to minimize the amount of inefficiency others can inflict upon you.

      I came here to post something exactly like this.

      In a work environment, delaying the task can make the task go away.

      On the actual subject though, procrastination is not the benefit. It's something that happens despite the benefit. The real bonus is letting the subconscious mind work on the problem a while in order to get out of the "must be solved this way" loop.

      Delaying the problem DOES NOT work for large classes of things that need to get done. Sometimes delaying can cause a spring of motivation to

      • For me from the opposite side, yes people delaying task can make it go away I get frustrated and just do it myself. It is often less effort to do a task yourself than wait for some lazy person, to get off their buts and do it. Of course this comes with the added reward of no good deed goes unpunished, and people expect you to do it again next time.

        There is some wisdom in Wally's philosophy http://dilbert.com/strip/2015-... [dilbert.com]

      • by Bongo ( 13261 )

        True, but here's how it does works: you take that thing that requires creativity and can be made to wait, and whilst your subconscious works on it, you clean the toilet.

        Actually I once had a brief to produce a post-modern take on a betting shop, as an art installation—and whilst cleaning the toilet it occurred to me that the counter of the betting shop should have the area where you pass your money through look like a toilet bowl.

        Throwing your money down the drain; all money is crap; etc.

        Unfortunately

    • Exactly.

      The best way to deal with a boss that cannot make up his mind is to put off doing whatever he wants you to do until the last moment when whatever you create cannot be changed anymore. Because if you dare delivering it earlier, you will do it twice.

    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      after putting it off as long as possible find out it no longer was necessary

      And back when humans were evolving on the savannas, in a highly unpredictable environment, this likely happened a lot. So both action with foresight and inaction were both strategies that were randomly good or bad. Some personalities tended towards procrastination, and some didn't, because neither was ideal.

      The "used properly" part, of course, is tricky.

    • by jbr439 ( 214107 )

      Agreed. Sad as it may be, I have also found that procrastinating solves a surprising number of issues.

  • by TheRealHocusLocus ( 2319802 ) on Sunday January 17, 2016 @07:25AM (#51317245)

    When you're facing any project that will require creative thought and a bit of narrative at the end such as an essay or presentation, do a bit of deep research early in the cycle so that main points and a crude outline of the objective is apparent, then go about your days keeping the project in mind. Bits and pieces will occur to you at various times and that's when you must take some sort of action: reach into the pocket for notebook and pen or talk into your widget. Every other day gather and consolidate these thoughts to paper or screen. Try to think of the project as 'evolving' rather than a sense of anxiety or dread. Above all, don't try to do it entirely in your mind, there must be some physical recording medium with you at all times. At some point there might be a jotted or spoken note that you'll discover leads to some wry twist of insight, or a novel approach to present the ideas. Like dream images these insights can be fragile, never trust them to memory. Hopefully as the procrastination phase nears its end you'll find a much better outline to fill with detail and polish, and a fine end product.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    They say "28% more creative", but that number sounds like 100% bullshit, depending on how they drew that conclusion.

    • They say "28% more creative", but that number sounds like 100% bullshit, depending on how they drew that conclusion.

      This comment is exactly 28% more insightful than any others I've read on this thread so far.

  • John Cleese (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 17, 2016 @07:42AM (#51317269)

    There's an excellent YouTube video of a talk by John Cleese about creativity [youtube.com]. One of the key elements of creating an opportunity for creativity to arise is continuing to ponder and not just taking the first solution that comes to mind.

  • George Martin's next book should be a winner then!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 17, 2016 @08:53AM (#51317373)

    But, well, you know...

  • Reminds of Murray Gell-Mann [wikipedia.org]'s creative process: saturation, incubation and illumination [youtube.com].
  • Because divergent thinking might make people ponder something different than a literal interpretation of the Bible. This is why procrastination is OF THE DEVIL.

  • You have to plan how to mix, match, and mold the cruddy stuff & then fire it

    Fire first doesn't work.

  • Hot Grits! By procrastinating I can get a Frist Post whenever I want!

  • I like how they can quantify creativity so easily.
    • I was going to say the same thing. Ridiculous. These "studies" get more and more ridiculous every year.
      • by ranton ( 36917 )

        I was going to say the same thing. Ridiculous. These "studies" get more and more ridiculous every year.

        One byproduct of the anti-intellectual problem in our society is that people begin to confuse very hard tasks with impossible tasks. It just makes it easier if you don't want to think hard and instead can just claim something cannot be done.

        Your comments remind me of people who think you cannot quantify the value of brand loyalty or customer satisfaction. Luckily the data analytics industry can still move forward while uncreative people dismiss their efforts.

  • In the workplace, procrastination can be useful on a project because the requirements can, and often do, change. If the amount of actual work is a small fraction of the time allotted, then putting it off to the end of the timeframe can prevent having to re-do your work when things change. I've met a co-worker who used this reasoning explicitly, and she was very good at getting lots of work done (and on time too).
  • I'd never get anything done.

  • procrastinators' ideas were 28 percent more creative

    How do you measure creativity? According to them, how creative were Da Vinci? Bach? The idea that you can measure creativity is silly. Furthermore, I think we can agree that thinking deeply about a problem is more likely to lead to a good solution than not, but procrastinating is not the same thing as actively engaging a subject. This reeks of psycho babble clickbait -- after all, who doesn't want to read that procrastinating is good?

  • FallingWater -- that's the one that is falling apart because he didn't bother to do the engineering, right?
  • but procrastination pays off immediately!!!

  • That means by waiting nearly 2 days this post is 28% more creative. Thanks science!

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