LONG LIVE PROCRASTINATION!
I picked up a book in the Hong Kong airport while returning from Thailand last week. (Don’t get me going about my decision to save $268 by toughing it out on a wooden bench in the airport transit lounge instead of checking into the airport hotel—bad decision!) The book is Adam Grant’s New York Times best-seller, Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World. Catchy title, intriguing content.
Grant—a psychologist researcher at Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and ranked one of the world’s top twenty-five management thinkers—spends a chapter expanding his counter-intuitive suggestion that procrastination can actually heighten creativity and production. Perhaps Mark Twain was right: "Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow."
"It may not be a coincidence that some of the most original thinkers and inventors in history have been procrastinators" (96). Take Leonardo da Vinci, for example. "Scholars estimate that da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa on and off for a few years starting in 1503, left it unfinished, and didn’t complete it until close to his death in 1519" (ibid). Turns out he procrastinated in similar fashion with his painting of The Last Supper, a masterpiece in the making for over a decade and a half. "His critics believed he was wasting his time dabbling with optical experiments and other distractions that kept him from completing his paintings"—but it was these pottering distractions that fueled "a lifetime of productive brainstorming, a private working out of the ideas on which his more public work depended" (ibid). I.e., da Vinci’s procrastinations ignited his genius for originality.
Adam Grant suggests it was the same for Martin Luther King, Jr., and his iconic "I have a dream" speech. Early in that summer of 1963 King and his advisers began hammering out a list of talking points for what they knew would be a critical speech carried on television and radio live to this nation. Over the summer they debated and scribbled. But it wasn’t until the night before that August gathering at the Lincoln Memorial that King sweated through his last feverish efforts. His wife Coretta later recalled, "'He worked on it all night, not sleeping a wink’"(92). And yet when he stepped to the lectern with his notes, the "I have a dream" segment wasn’t even there. It was the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson who shouted out from behind him part way into his speech, "Tell 'em about the dream, Martin!" And tell them he did, eventually pushing away his prepared notes to draw instead from the 275,000 miles and the 350 speeches he had already logged that year. "I have a dream" he intoned. And thus was born one of the most recognized phrases in human rhetoric, inserted into history at the last moment!
Adam Grant’s protracted point? Procrastination, coupled with deep thinking and interrupting brooding, can actually ignite originality and creativity. "Once a task is finished, we stop thinking about it. But when it is interrupted and left undone, it stays active in our minds" (99).
Though let’s be clear he isn’t suggesting procrastination is the best way to study (an important caveat on this eve of final exams here at the university)! The wise King Solomon reminds us: "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest [procrastination]—and poverty [of income, of ideas] will come on you like a bandit and scarcity [of good grades] like an armed man" (Proverbs 6:10).
But there is one procrastination that spiritual sense forbids—and that is putting off your decision about Jesus Christ. The Roman governor Felix made that fatal mistake: "He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, 'That's enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you’" (Acts 24:24-25). Procrastination. Lost.
Have you been putting off the same decision? "I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2). Because there is no time like right now to open the door to your life and invite the Lord Jesus to be your Savior. Turns out, He, too, has a dream—the dream of a forever friendship with you. So why wait? Why not say Yes right now? (Contact me at this website, and let me help you with that Yes.)