Don’t put things off until tomorrow, if you can do them on the day after tomorrow

Procrastinators are creative heads. It’s official. And not only because we can be pretty imaginative when it comes to putting something off that definitely needs doing. We also allow our thoughts to work in peace in the hope that they will report back with something original and fresh.

Before the Internet and especially Facebook – both likely developed by procrastinators for procrastinators – which offer everyone a more or less unproductive oasis of virtual retreat, our image was considerably better. Though we didn’t do what we were really supposed to, nobody could claim we were lazy. We worked in meticulously tidied offices with alphabetically ordered bookcases, our kitchens were spotless, and when we wanted to get away from the stress, we just had a lie down on the freshly mowed lawn. And because good food is vital for the strong nerves that procrastinators undoubtedly need, our fridge was usually well stocked and good chocolate was never far away.

People had a little sympathy with us back then, but we certainly didn’t have a bad image. That all changed with the arrival of Facebook, YouTube and reddit – and perhaps it’s partly due to so many self-help books being published over the past few years on how to be a true procrastinator.

Procrastination is, in fact, very useful. Even “precrastinators” – i.e. the other ones, the ones who always hand things in first, before the deadline – recognise the benefits of strategic postponement. Putting something off, offers the opportunity not to occupy the first, best place but instead to see how things develop. This buys us time, ensures we don’t get bobbed down with the most obvious solutions and instead consider more unusual options.

In a study, the American scientist Jihae Shin proved that employees who consider themselves procrastinators are seen by their bosses as being more creative compared to other employees. Although not doing things immediately may slow productivity, it can help drive creativity. Because even if we aren’t thinking of anything in particular, we are actually still thinking about the thing we aren’t thinking about, so to speak.

Contrary to the popular opinion that it’s sensible, particularly when faced with complex decisions, to think about them for as long and intensively as possible, the Dutch psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis claims that simple decisions actually benefit most from conscious consideration. So next time you’re buying a new dish cloth, it might be beneficial to briefly stop, think and only then to select the colour, as bright yellow cloths get dirty more quickly than multi-coloured ones. More complex questions are a whole different ball game. For difficult decisions, unconscious consideration – which goes on independently and unbeknown to us in the background – often leads to better results. Our brain believes it is being asked to continue working on any given task that remains unsolved.

Particularly creative people appear to be able to work most effectively on an unconventional solution to a problem during periods in which they don’t appear to be working at all, instead giving their minds space and time to form ideas. They successfully resist the impulse to get a task done quickly in order to come up with a better result: “Procrastinating is almost like a maturing process which prevents us from committing to a certain solution at an early stage.”

In other words, resist the urge to get things done quickly, even if it appears risky and sometimes makes things stressful. Originality needs procrastinators. Even Leonardo da Vinci put his work on the Mona Lisa to one side in 1503 before finally finishing the painting in 1519.

Ap Dijksterhuis, Think Different: The Merits of Unconscious Thought in Preference Development and Decision Making, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2004.
Ut Na Sio, Thomas C. Omerod, Does Incubation enhance problem solving? A meta-analytic review, Psychological Bulletin 135, 2009.
Adam Grant, Originals, 2016.