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.