With all the advice out there about how to stop procrastinating, it’s fair to say most of us think of procrastination as a barrier to success.
But as Adam Grant, a professor of management at Wharton and author of the new book, “Originals,” tells Business Insider, procrastination is actually a powerful tool used by some of the most innovative thinkers.
Grant explains that historically, there were actually two ways people talked about procrastination.
There was how most people think of procrastination today, where it’s tied to laziness and apathy. But in Ancient Egypt, people also defined procrastination as, “Waiting for the right time.” This is an idea that great thinkers and creators like Steve Jobs embraced.
According to Grant, research suggests that procrastination is a vice when it comes to productivity, but it’s actually a virtue for creativity.
“The time Steve Jobs was putting things off and noodling on possibilities was time well spent in letting more divergent ideas come to the table, as opposed to diving right in with the most conventional, the most obvious, the most familiar,” he tells Business Insider.
“I think the idea of delaying is something we all need to be comfortable with, because you can’t rush creativity,” Grant says.
There are ways we can all strategically procrastinate.
According to research by Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, once we finish a task, we stop thinking about it — but when it’s interrupted and left undone, it stays active in our minds. Procrastinating strategically means stopping whatever creative tasks we’re working on before they’re complete to allow more creative ideas to bubble up, “making gradual progress by testing and refining different possibilities,” as Grant writes in his book.
“I’m not saying you should just put things off forever, because then nothing ever gets done,” he says. “But there are lots of ways that pausing in the middle of a project can encourage people to take a step back and reevaluate, ‘Is there another direction that might work for this?'”