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Procrastination makes you more creative, research says

Martin Luther King’s 'I have a dream' speech, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa are all owed to procratisnation say scientists

Alexandra Sims
Thursday 10 March 2016 19:50
Leonardo da Vinci, who painted the Mona Lisa, died in 1519
Leonardo da Vinci, who painted the Mona Lisa, died in 1519

Many of us can feel guilty for putting off impending tasks, however new research has revealed we may not need to feel so shameful.

Around 20 per cent of adults claim to chronic procrastinators, but they may also be more creative, according to scientists.

Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton Business School, said he was first alerted to the theory when one of his “most creative students” told him she had her most original ideas after she procrastinated.

Jihae Shin, now a professor at the University of Wisconsin, investigated the hypothesis by carrying out surveys at two different companies, analysing how often staff there procrastinated and then getting their bosses to rate how creative and innovative they were.

Professor Shin found those who procrastinated were often found to be the most creative.

Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech was aided by procrastination, scientists say Getty

She cemented the findings under laboratory conditions, where she asked a group of people to submit business ideas.

Those asked to submit their ideas after playing games such as Minesweeper or Solitaire for five minutes before gave ideas rated 28 per cent more creative by assessors than those who started their ideas straight away.

Setting out the findings in his book Originals: How non-conformists change the world, Professor Grant claims our first ideas are often our most conventional ones, whereas procrastination allows a person's mind to wander, leading to more innovative thinking.

Professor Grant also claims some of the greatest moments of human history are due to procrastination, including Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

He told BBC Radio 4: “The greatest speeches in history were re-written at the last minute so that you had a lot of flexibility to improvise while you’re still on stage, as opposed to getting the script set in stone months in advance.

“And Da Vinci spent 16 years working on and off in the Mona Lisa and he felt like a failure because he was constantly getting diverted, he wrote in his journal: 'Tell me if anything ever was done'".

“What he didn’t realise at the time… some of the diversions, like experiments in optics, changed the way that he modelled light and ultimately made him a better painter.”

Taking procrastination too far, however, can also hinder creativity says Professor Grant. Further research found that leaving things to the very last minute meant people rushed to complete tasks, implementing the easiest idea rather than coming up with the most original.

Prosser Grant, who describes himself as a "pre-crastinator" – an individual who becomes anxious long before work is due and completes it ahead of schedule – said his research has caused him to change some of his working habits.

Writing in the New York Times he said: “If you’re a procrastinator, next time you’re wallowing in the dark playground of guilt and self-hatred over your failure to start a task, remember that the right kind of procrastination might make you more creative.”

“And if you’re a pre-crastinator, like me, it may be worth mastering the discipline of forcing yourself to procrastinate.”

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