Ebb and Flow: Creativity and Productive Procrastination


Image via Tom and James Draw.

When you are out of school, ulti­mately left to your own devices, there is a period of time where you floun­der. At least, I know I did. You have all of these ideas; Like how you’re going to finally learn to use Pho­to­shop or redo your web­site. Time is pre­cious. Sud­denly, you don’t have enough of it, and you won­der how you ever spent your Fri­day after­noons with your best friends read­ing trashy mag­a­zines and being totally use­less.

For many years, this was me. And, more often than not, it still is me. But, what I do know now is how and when to do my best work. And, I also know that run­ning is more than exer­cise — it’s how my brain gen­er­ates some of its best ideas.

I’d like to pass on my wis­dom (for lack of a bet­ter term) on to you, dear reader. Not that I’m the author­ity on this stuff, but I’m hop­ing what’s worked for me can help you, too!

Fig­ure out what times you work best and how.

Is it just me, or is “pulling an all nighter” seen as some sort of badge of honor? Like you are more of a badass because you stayed up all night to fin­ish an assign­ment rather than man­age your time well. Don’t get me wrong. Some­times, it’s totally nec­es­sary to burn the mid­night oil to get some­thing done, espe­cially if you are jug­gling a lot of projects. But, I don’t work that way. I’ve real­ized over the years how impor­tant sleep is to my well-being. I crum­ble under intense pres­sure, so I know I have to por­tion out my projects into man­age­able bits.

Are you a morn­ing per­son? Or, does your brain work bet­ter at night? Ana­lyze what types of deci­sions you are mak­ing as you work. For me, In the morn­ing with lit­tle dis­trac­tions (no one’s up!), I’m of clear mind to focus for a few hours. I leave all big deci­sions to that time, because I know that’s when I’m best self. Of course, I still work in the evening, but leave it to fun things or tasks that require less cre­ativ­ity. But, maybe you’re the oppo­site. Once you know this,  you can start to plan your day around the moments that will yield the best results.

Embrace pro­duc­tive procrastination.

Boy, doesn’t that sound counter intu­itive? I’ve been a run­ner for the past 12 years, and fell off the wagon when I was in grad­u­ate school. I felt like I couldn’t devote the time, espe­cially when I had so much work to do. But, dur­ing the last semes­ter of school, I had a pro­fes­sor talk about pro­duc­tive pro­cras­ti­na­tion, and I real­ized how impor­tant this activ­ity really was.

Maybe you’re work­ing on a sketch for some­thing, but you sud­denly feel stuck. Instead of sit there and try and work through it, you wash your dishes instead. While doing so this doesn’t seem like it’s affect­ing your draw­ing, the task is itself pro­duc­tive and also mind­less. At the same time, it gives your uncon­scious brain the chance to fig­ure your prob­lem out.

I real­ized that run­ning is my mind­less task. I start run­ning, let my brain go, and hon­estly, it’s where my best ideas come from. Look­ing back, it’s how I came up with my the­sis for my sec­ond year of grad­u­ate school, and the idea to write this post in the first place. I now use run­ning as an oppor­tu­nity to be more cre­ative and innovative.

But, of course, it doesn’t have to be run­ning. Take a long walk, wash your dishes, fold your clothes. Know that more is going on than just get­ting some house­work done.

What about you? When are you at your best? What is your pro­duc­tive pro­cras­ti­na­tion? Let me know in the comments.



  • Reply tomas July 23, 2013 at 11:31 am

    yes. Im a morn­ing per­son. a cup of cof­fee, maybe a cheese sand­wich, a bowl of sere­als and then Im of to go! what I do when I get stuck, I ride my skate­board, all­ways gets me inspired again. thanks for a really nice reading

    • Reply admin July 23, 2013 at 4:03 pm

      Thanks for read­ing! I think being out­doors is always a good way to recharge. I like to remind myself that there is a great big world out there!

  • Reply tomas July 23, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    I agree to the fullest. actu­ally I did my bach­e­lor degree project about this. how o keep the cre­ative­ness, how do I work best and so on. a bit famil­iar to your thoughts.

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