I was supposed to write this blog entry a week ago. I have my To Do list set so that once a month, a week before I aim to post, I get a reminder to write the blog. But each month, almost without exception, I end up writing the blog closer to (and sometimes a few days past!) the day I’m set to post. Why is this?
I’ve always been a procrastinator. I still remember my first big paper of ninth grade, an essay on our summer reading book, David Copperfield. I found myself putting off the task until there I was, at 1:30 a.m., re-reading sections and excitedly scribbling my thesis (yes, we could hand write our papers – I’m dating myself!). I was thrilled with the work I did, but I had always been taught not to put things off; so I said to myself, Next time, I’ll start earlier. But the next time, I found myself in the same situation, working away excitedly into the wee hours. And while I still had some sense of guilt about the way I worked, I began to realize that this method actually worked for me. I never felt like my work product would have been better had I started earlier. In fact, the (very) few times I did actually do an assignment early, I noticed I didn’t do as well – my thinking was superficial, not digging deep into the topic at hand and not coming up with anything new.
As it turns out, I was on to something. Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, explored the idea of procrastination and how it can actually enhance creativity. Some of most famous creative folks notoriously took forever to accomplish certain tasks (Leonardo da Vinci and the Mona Lisa come to mind as a great example. And if you think about it, it completely makes sense. When we begin a task right away, we will likely use the first idea we come up with. Do you think the first idea we come up with is the most creative? Probably not. But if we know we have an assignment ahead, we can allow the idea to marinate in our creative juices, and even while we are doing other things, we are actually beginning work on the idea. So, by the time we actually sit down to work, our brain has already been active and has had, by way of the extra time, permission to diverge onto more creative paths than we might have gone down had we begun right away.
When we did our faculty professional development before the school year began, we focused a great deal on the notion of time and pace. We believe firmly that kids learn better when they are given time and space to ask questions, to dig deep, and to explore possibilities. A slow pace does not equate with boredom – that might be the case in a teacher-centered classroom, with one person talking painfully slowly. But a slow pace in a student-centered classroom allows kids to feel safe to take risks, challenges them to think differently, and encourages them to follow their curiosity and discover new ideas.
I recently came across a video that explored this notion. Two groups of students were given the same drawing and asked to complete it. The difference? One group had only ten seconds to complete the drawing, whereas the second group had ten minutes. You can likely imagine what happened (if you want to watch the video before reading ahead, click here) – the students who had only ten seconds all went with their first idea, and hence their drawings all looked the same. The students who had ten minutes used the original drawing as inspiration for myriad different things and thus came up with wildly different interpretations. Because they had time to think and create, they did not have to go with the first idea that came to mind. Instead, they allowed their minds to take them on a journey, exploring areas that likely had individual meaning for each of them.
I have taught a lot of creative writing over the years, and my favorite area to explore with students of all ages is the beauty of the “what if” statement. You can go anywhere with that: What if a dragon jumped in front of the car as you and your family were driving to school this morning? What if you woke up to discover that you had the ability to fly? What if you came home to find a hippopotamus in your bathtub? There are an infinite number of ways to go with a sentence that begins with “What if…” But unless we give our students time, their responses will likely lack individuality or creativity. We live in a fast-paced world, but the best thing we can do for our kids is to slow down, to give them time to come up with multiple ideas and solutions. What if we agree to do this for our kids? The possibilities are endless.
If you’d like to read an article by Adam Grant about procrastination, click here. It might just be the impetus you need to develop your procrastination skills!