Procrastination is defined as the act of delaying or postponing a task. Basically, procrastination is bad, and we all know this. In fact, one of my first articles was titled “How to Beat Procrastination” and it included a few tips about how you can win against your inside procrastinator.
Recently, I watched a TED Talk by Adam Grant titled “The surprising habits of original thinkers.” This talk changed how I perceived procrastination. I no longer see procrastination as bad, and I can proudly say that I am a procrastinator.
Adam Grant starts his talk by telling a story of how he declined to invest in a company because they were really slow getting off the ground. The company he missed out on is Warby Parker, and I used “missed out” because this company is now valued at over a billion dollars. As an organizational psychologist, he had to understand how this happened, which led him to studying “originals.”
According to Grant, originals do not only have ideas but take actions to achieve them. They are the ones who change the world. Through his studies, he found that originals are also procrastinators. Surprised? I was too. However, there is a fine line between good and bad procrastination.
He designed multiple experiments to test his theory. In one of the experiments, people were given a task. Some were asked to do the task right away. The others were assigned to procrastinate for either 5 or 10 minutes. The results of the experiment showed that the moderate procrastinators were 16% more creative than the other two groups. Keep in mind that the procrastinators knew the task before starting so the task was in the back of their minds. Procrastination gave them time to consider different ideas and to think outside of the box. The group who started the task right away went with the first idea they thought of, while the extreme procrastinators were running out of time to actually work on the ideas they thought of.
In fact, he discovered that a lot of great originals were procrastinators, like Leonardo da Vinci who painted the Mona Lisa over 16 years. Martin Luther King Jr. was up until 3 am rewriting the biggest speech of his life. “I have a dream,” the four words that changed history weren’t even in the script.
“Procrastinating is a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue for creativity.” is what Grant said in his TED Talk. Great originals are procrastinators. They start off quick but they’re slow to finish. That is because they spend all that time trying to come up with the best product or service. Even if they miss the first-mover advantage, it’s not an issue because they aim to be better and different. We can conclude from one study that the first-mover advantage is somewhat of a myth. That study showed that the failure rate of improvers was 8% compared with 47% for the first movers.
The truth is procrastination is not so bad. Now I am not saying that everyone should start procrastinating because not everyone is able to be a moderate procrastinator. I just want procrastinators to not feel guilty or to not beat themselves up when they procrastinate. Procrastination is perfectly fine as long as you have control over it. Aim for the virtue, not the vice.