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.