Regardless of one’s field or type of employment, everyone is guilty of procrastinating at one time or another. Procrastination almost has the status of a four-letter word, which makes it hard to argue that there are positives to putting off work or obligations indefinitely. But is it possible there could be cognitive benefits to putting off until tomorrow what could be done today?
Could Procrastination Feed Productivity?
In an article for BBC Worklife, Loizos Heracleous and David Robson write that psychologists have found strong evidence that creativity can thrive after a period of “incubation” during which one focuses on something other than the task at hand. “This could include taking a walk, doing household chores or having a shower. Even our procrastination at work—such as watching funny YouTube videos—may be helpful for our problem solving, provided it is done in moderation,” they write. “There are many reasons why a period of incubation could lead to new and inventive insights.
According to one of the leading theories, it depends on the power of the unconscious mind: when we leave our task, the brain continues to look for solutions below awareness, until a solution pops out.”
Yes, But Set Limits!
It’s important to note that there are, of course, reasonable limits to the length of an incubation period. Readers shouldn’t take this post as an excuse to put a dreaded task on the backburner for months without thinking about it. Additionally, not all unpleasant tasks require creativity, such as data entry or napkin-folding.
Procrastination is rarely encouraged in the workplace, but there is evidence that stepping away from a complicated task requiring deep thought might actually help clear the mind and allow for creative insights. Of course, there are limits to when and to what extent this “productive procrastination” may be appropriate, but it may be worth a shot for those facing a mental roadblock.