Procrastinate for Better Work

Procrastination is not a word we associate with doing good work. It’s usually connected with laziness and slacker. But what if some of the most important and iconic moments in history were birthed from procrastination? What if procrastination is the key to creativity and our best ideas?

Adam Grant in his book Originals gives weight to this argument. He gives examples of “intentional procrastination” from a couple iconic moments in history:

  1. MLK wrote his famous I Have a Dream speech the night before and was still editing while walking to the stage. Much of this powerful speech improvised. MLK had months to prepare.
  2. Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address was only half done the night before while having weeks to prepare. Albeit, a short speech, he finished the last paragraph the morning of.
  3. Leonardo DaVinci spent twelve years piddling around with the Mona Lisa and Last Supper paintings before they were completed. Some saw him as lazy but he had a method to the madness.

He experimented with different tones, angles, and colors before finishing his most beloved work. 

These men were not avoiding the work. They were crafting, synthesizing, and experimenting for the greatest outcome.

Let me be clear. In these cases of procrastination and delay they are intentional.

MLK had months to prepare for a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement. He sought advice and counsel from a team of people to ensure the speech would connect with the masses. MLK had experimented with different phrasing, cadence, and verbiage for years before this point. 

Not until minutes before the speech had MLK worked it down to the final version. And, much of the speech was still improvised from the stage. How?

By experimentation. MLK spent months (and years), experimenting with different ways of communication. He invited people into the speech to give feedback long before the time to deliver. The procrastination was not laziness and fear. It was intentional to ensure their best work.

Grant shows in the book how DaVinci took the same path of delay and experimentation. After twelve years to complete the Mona Lisa and Last Supper people thought he was lazy. But… He was experimenting with different ideas and ways of creating the art. He used intentional delay and procrastination to do his best work.

What does this mean for us?

If you want to do good work don’t be afraid of procrastination. It’s in the delay we can experiment and do our best work.

In a culture where instant gratification, speed, and now, is the air we breathe. Maybe we need to pause, procrastinate, and find the best ideas, and do our best and most creative work. 

MLK, Lincoln, and DaVinci procrastinated. It worked for them. Maybe it will work for us.