Well, it happened. We missed our own e-news deadline last month. Creatives are notorious for being procrastinators. But why? It’s not like we intentionally put everything off until the last minute. In fact, it’s May 1st as I sit down to contemplate what it is I want to say about… procrastination. Deadline: May 10. (See, ahead of the game) But here’s where I stall out. What do I even have to say about it? What’s my point? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?
Let me think about it….
I went to a concert @ St. Andrews Hall and thought about this assignment while I sat in traffic. I thought about it in between sets (not during), and even while I ate hot wings. A few days have passed, and no real progress has been made. I’m not sure why we as creatives put ourselves under this pressure of “waiting”. Is it self-doubt? Imposter syndrome? Is that what prohibits us from just diving headfirst into a project? Am I the only one that thinks, “Hmmm, maybe this is it? Maybe this is the one where I don’t find the solution,” when faced with a difficult challenge? Is this even that big of a deal? This is a blog article, for our OWN newsletter. C’mon, can’t I just sit down and write it?
The best creative ideas don’t come when you are staring at a keyboard or computer screen. Mostly they catch you off guard: when you’re in the shower, walking the dog, or driving in the car. There have been times when I’ve been on a walk and had to sit down on 4 different benches to make notes because we all know a stroke of genius can disappear as fast as it appears, and you may not get it back. I’m realizing procrastination isn’t laziness. In fact, it’s the opposite, where projects take up real estate in my mind 24/7.
When we procrastinate, we may not be actively working on our project, but our subconscious mind is still processing information related to it. This allows us to come up with new ideas and solutions to problems without even realizing it is happening. Sometimes, stepping away from a project can give us the space we need to generate fresh perspectives and insights.
I think I have my insight. As I’m mucking out stalls, I realize that an argument can be made that once the seed of an idea is planted, everything that comes after isn’t actually procrastination. It’s just the hidden part of the process. At its core, procrastination is a form of avoidance behavior, and in the context of creative work, this can mean delaying the start of a project or putting off making difficult decisions. However, instead of viewing procrastination as a hindrance to productivity, creative individuals can view it as an opportunity to engage in a different form of work, one that may lead to better results.
After all, we as creatives don’t intentionally sit and wait until the last minute to put pencil to paper. We think. Long and hard. We assess, research, and gain a full understanding of the task at hand. And then we let it marinate.
As odd as it seems, putting a project off until it is fully realized in your head can open unique perspectives and make connections that might not otherwise have bubbled up through the subconscious mind. This time is used to make decisions about things like the tone, style, and structure of our work. Procrastination can give us the space we need to consider our options and make more thoughtful decisions. It gives us the time to ensure we’re not simply duplicating work that has come before. While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, for creative work, it is a cardinal sin. Sometimes, rushing to decide can lead to mistakes, suboptimal choices, or worse, duplicating work you admire either unknowingly or knowingly.
Right on time, an idea arises from all this hidden work. By viewing procrastination as an opportunity to engage in different forms of creative work, to allow for the subconscious mind to work on the problem at hand, to experiment and explore new creative avenues, and to reduce stress and anxiety, creative individuals can harness the power of procrastination to achieve their goals and produce their best work.
So, the next time you’re wondering why that creative team is taking selfies with their dogs in the park, be happy they’re taking the time to dig deeper to find the right solution to your marketing or advertising problem. Know that they’ve marinated in the creative juices of their mind for countless hours to produce a delicious meal that will satisfy all your needs.
Kellie Bambach is Executive Creative Director at Rivet Brands. She’s spent a good deal of her 25-year career letting it marinate. For which our clients are very thankful.