Not all procrastination is harmful. Active procrastination can even enhance creativity (Liu, Pan, Luo, Wang & Pang, 2017; Cohen & Ferrari, 2010). When we think of procrastination, we often time think of passive procrastination, where we defer challenging and boring tasks to the last minute and miss the deadline. Today, we will talk about active procrastination. Different from passive procrastinations, active procrastination requires us to (1) see pressure as exciting challenges, (2) perceive time as fluid, (3) meet deadlines no matter what, (4) prioritize tasks intelligently, and (5) strategically suspend decisions for creative solutions (Choi & Moran, 2009).
See pressure as exciting challenges. We naturally perceive pressure as a threat. However, active procrastinators harness the pressure in a more strategic way. When facing pressure, we have two choices: feel the stress and postpone all necessary actions or see the stress as exciting challenges and boost our motivations to act. Active procrastinators choose the latter. Chu & Choi (2005) pointed out that when people see stress as opportunities for growth and challenges to overcome, our brain receive two types of motivational boost for creativity. One boost is from internal motivation wanting to deal with the challenges and facilitate personal growth. Another boost is from external motivation wanting to complete tasks on time to establish personal credibility (Deci & Ryan, 1985). To apply this knowledge, when we face stressful situations, remind ourselves to be active procrastinators and tell ourselves that we can shift our perceptions and see the pressure as opportunities for growth and get excited to act. I will explore further about how we can train ourselves to see pressure as excitement for challenges in future articles.
Perceive time as fluid. I was a terrible passive procrastinator and felt guilty about it. One time, I decided to make a change. I planned out every task with a highly structured schedule. I believed that once I have a fixed schedule I would not passively procrastinate anymore. However, things got worse after that. I would spend too much mental power on sticking to each task at each time period, and felt super tired at the end of the day. If I managed to complete all tasks on scheduled time, I did feel a sense of accomplishment, but most often than not, I was mentally exhausted to celebrate. What usually ended up happening was that I failed to stick to the schedule and felt guilty and started to blame myself. In this case, I treated time as a fixed entity. Active procrastinators see time as fluid and creatively manage time in an adaptable manner. They plan time with blocks of key priorities, small blocks for self care (yoga & exercise), and mini blocks of empty schedules to accommodate for last-minute changes. Furthermore, active procrastinators treat scheduling as a constantly evolving project. They periodically review and adjust priorities to postpone certain non-priorities and leave space for adjustments. It is like putting together a puzzle, which shifts patterns all the time. When we can freely and intentionally reshuffle the task activities to respond to changing external demands, we know we have mastered active procrastination (Chu & Choi, 2005). I will explore further about how we can train ourselves to become fluid time managers.
Meet deadlines no matter what.When we believe available time is enough to perform a required task, we feel less pressure and stay calm (Ordóñez, Benson, & Pittarello, 2015). Active procrastinators estimate properly the minimum amount of time and efforts required to finish a task, believe time needed is within the range of time available, and increase task-oriented efforts strategically when the deadline approaches. Increasing efforts incrementally as deadline approach helps to foster “manageable-man-made” pressure and build space for creativity to play its role (Chu & Choi, 2005; Liu, Pan, Luo, Wang & Pang, 2017). I will explore further about how we can train ourselves to use more task-oriented coping strategies under stress.
Prioritize tasks intelligently. Active procrastinators divide activities into four categories (refer to the picture above): activities with high instant satisfaction and high goal-orientation, activities with low instant satisfaction but high goal-orientation, activities with high instant satisfaction but low goal-orientation, activities with low instant satisfaction and low goal-orientation. It is easy for everyone to choose activities with high instant satisfaction and high goal-orientation while avoid the total opposite. How active procrastinators differ from passive procrastinators lies in their intentional selection and focus on activities with low instant satisfaction but high goal-orientation over activities with high instant satisfaction but low goal-orientation (Tice & Baumeister, 1997). So before we decide to procrastinate on a task, let’s do this prioritization exercise first.
Strategically suspend decisions. Have you had an experience where you have spend hours searching for potential solutions to a problem but found nothing. You stopped thinking about it and instead decided to take a walk, or do a shower, take a bathroom break, or walk the dog, and all of a sudden, the ideas flooded your mind and you wish you have brought a pen to write them down. Cohen & Ferrari (2010) found that constructive time spent on rumination during relaxing or irrelevant activities significantly predicts creativity. It is possible that rumination helps one’s conscious brain to postpone decisions on a certain idea, and transfer the idea to the subconscious brain to build further connections between superficially unrelated frames of references, which lead to innovative solutions (please refer to PIET to read more about the stage of incubation). However, not all rumination lead to creativity. I will explore further about how to avoid maladaptive rumination and do adaptive rumination.
In future articles, I will be exploring “creative pressure coping,” “fluid time management,” “adaptive rumination,” “the art of good questions,” “creativity & fears,” “creativity & happiness,” “creativity and mindfulness” and “how to enhance creativity.” If you want to suggest some topics of creativity, please feel free to leave in the comment below.
Choi, J. N., & Moran, S. V. (2009). Why not procrastinate? Development and validation of a new active procrastination scale. The Journal of social psychology, 149(2), 195-212.
Chun Chu, A. H., & Choi, J. N. (2005). Rethinking procrastination: Positive effects of” active” procrastination behavior on attitudes and performance. The Journal of social psychology, 145(3), 245-264.
Cohen, J. R., & Ferrari, J. R. (2010). Take some time to think this over: The relation between rumination, indecision, and creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 22(1), 68-73.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). The general causality orientations scale: Self-determination in personality. Journal of research in personality, 19(2), 109-134.
Liu, W., Pan, Y., Luo, X., Wang, L., & Pang, W. (2017). Active procrastination and creative ideation: The mediating role of creative self-efficacy. Personality and Individual Differences, 119, 227-229.
Ordóñez, L. D., Benson III, L., & Pittarello, A. (2015). Time-pressure perception and decision making. The Wiley Blackwell handbook of judgment and decision making, 517-542.Ariely, D., & Wertenbroch, K. (2002). Procrastination, deadlines, and performance: Self-control by precommitment. Psychological science, 13(3), 219-224.
Subotnik, R., Steiner, C., & Chakraborty, B. (1999). Procrastination revisited: The constructive use of delayed response. Creativity Research Journal, 12(2), 151-160.
Tice, D. M., & Baumeister, R. F. (1997). Longitudinal study of procrastination, performance, stress, and health: The costs and benefits of dawdling. Psychological science, 8(6), 454-458.