Taking your mind off a problem can actually help solve it
Have you ever been in the shower when, all of a sudden, a creative solution to a problem you’ve been mulling over comes to mind?
Or perhaps you’ve found yourself washing the car or walking the dog when an amazing idea comes out of nowhere for starting a business or writing a book.
It’s funny how some of our best ideas present themselves when we least expect them, particularly after we’ve spent so long racking our brains over how to best overcome our biggest challenges and obstacles.
Why is it that a lot of our creative thinking comes during those moments when we’re consciously detached from the problem at hand?
It turns out that, when it comes to incomplete work, our minds continue to search for solutions even when our thoughts are elsewhere on a superficial level.
In other words, when we solve a problem, we mentally file it away. But even when we stop consciously thinking about existing challenges, ideas incubate and develop in the deep recesses of our minds.
As it turns out, a healthy dose of procrastination might just be what the doctor ordered when it comes to finding creative solutions to overcoming even the most stubborn obstacles.
Procrastination generally gets bad press; however, when used properly, it can work wonders for boosting our creativity and sparking innovative ideas.
Professor Adam Grant of Wharton Business School (and author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Rule the World) is a self-confessed pre-crastinator – a term used by psychologists to describe those who are compelled to begin and finish a task as soon as possible.
In an article for the New York Times, he describes how one of his former students showed him, by conducting a survey of company employees, that procrastinators were rated as more creative than their colleagues. Not convinced, Professor Grant asked for more evidence.
As he wrote: “Jihae, now a professor at the University of Wisconsin, designed some experiments. She asked people to come up with new business ideas.
“Some were randomly assigned to start right away. Others were given five minutes to first play Minesweeper or Solitaire. Everyone submitted their ideas, and independent adjudicators rated how original they were. The procrastinators’ ideas were 28 percent more creative.”
Professor Grant suggests that the ideas that first spring to our minds are usually the most conventional. However, when we put off tackling a creative task for a period of time, we begin to explore more novel ideas.
Procrastination encourages divergent thinking.
Before avid procrastinators get excited, there are a couple of things to consider. First of all, people who played games before being told about the task experienced no increase in creative thinking.
It was only when they knew the details of the task and encouraged to put it off that they found themselves inspired.
Second, if procrastinating goes too far (i.e. if you’re a ‘last-minute’ kind of person), you’re likely to rush making the most convenient solution work rather than be able to conjure up something creative.
So, how can you pack a punch with procrastination to help you arrive at your most creative ideas? Here are a few tips:
1) Consider your urgent problems early in the morning
After you’ve woken up sufficiently to think clearly enough, ask yourself a few pointed questions about a pressing issue. Maybe you have a presentation to deliver at the end of the week.
Ask yourself: “How can I bring my presentation to life?” or “What can I do to really capture my audience’s attention?” or “What are the main points that I should highlight?”
Consider these for a few minutes, and then forget about them.
2) Carry a notebook around with you
Ideas can pop up at anytime, anywhere. Granted, writing in the shower can be tricky, so make sure to at least have a notebook nearby to ensure you get those ideas down on paper as soon as possible.
It’s better to take notes with a pen than on your smartphone, as this helps to deepen the creative process.
However, if a smartphone is all you have to hand, type out a memo of your ideas. You’ll be surprised at how many solutions and creative ideas can pop up over a short period of time.
3) Meditate. Listen to music. Or go for a walk. Or hit the gym (Or do all four!)
Take regular time out for a hobby that’s not in any way related to work. The mental energy produced from these renewal processes – activities that help you de-stress – will help you to generate even more ideas.
Nothing great ever came from anyone being constantly under stress and overworked. Especially in the case of business leaders, the more this point is realised (and embraced), the better.
Think of all the great ideas that could be borne from employees having some time to genuinely relax and take their mind off spreadsheets, deadlines and emails!
Sandy Clarke has over 10 years’ experience in journalism and PR. He was due to participate in this year’s Procrastinators’ Championship, but decided to take part next year instead. To connect with Sandy, email firstname.lastname@example.org