Tarnya Davis | The habits of original thinkers

Every week I mean to gather these words in plenty of time, and, every week, the skin of my teeth is stretched and a red-faced emoji is sent to the patient Weekender editor. 

Are you someone who gets everything done on time, or well before, or are you familiar with the whooshing sound deadlines make as they whiz by? It is human to put things off, and it can be as much a function of what we have going on as it is about us, or perhaps the task itself. But organisational psychologist Adam Grant, in his TED talk, explores the sweet spot that exists between anxious organisation and chronic procrastination. 

Grant likes to get things done early, but his research suggested ‘pre-crastinators’ are in such a frenzy of anxiety to just get things finished that they have fewer creative ideas. Chronic procrastinators, on the other hand, are so busy goofing off that they are in such a flurry of panic at the end of a task that they too don’t have many creative ideas. He suggests there seems to be a sweet spot (somewhere between getting in too quick and leaving things too late) for optimising creativity. Maybe this is about taking time to mull things over and letting ideas grow. 

Grant found there were many creative procrastinators in history – such as Da Vinci who spent 16 years on the Mona Lisa, and even Martin Luther King Jnr, who was still working on his “I had a dream” speech as he waited to go on stage. Procrastination, it seems, may be a productivity vice but, with the right dose, can be a creative virtue. 

Tarnya Davis is a clinical and forensic psychologist and principal of NewPsych Psychologists.