Is procrastination healthy for creativity?
Recently I read an article which seemed to imply this. The main theme of the article being that a certain amount of procrastination is good for creativity. My immediate reaction to this was that procrastination was being misinterpreted. I had always understood procrastination to mean something negative. This is confirmed by checking out dictionary definitions. The Collins dictionary defines procrastination as ‘to put off or defer (an action) until a later time; delay’.
Adam Grant in his TED talk discusses procrastinators and concludes that moderate procrastinators were more creative whereas high or low ones were not so. Of course, there is a problem here in determining whether our procrastination level is low, moderate, or high! However, when you listen to Grants talk, it becomes clear that what he is really talking about is incubation and not procrastination. The same is true of the original article I had read that sparked this trail of thoughts.
So, what is the issue you may ask?
I have on numerous occasions coached someone who was a procrastinator, in that they left things undone until they became urgent. I have done this myself, and in fact am doing it right now in that I promised myself I would write this blog last month and have put if off several times.
Some people have a tendency to procrastinate and this mostly comes from a negative place.
- They may be perfectionists who put off things because the result needs to be perfect, and they may be afraid of taking the task on for this reason.
- They may just not want to do the task because it bores them or they dislike aspects of it.
- Or they are just too busy to get going on it.
All these reasons are undoubtedly genuine however, I would doubt whether any of them would result in a more creative approach given some delay in tackling the problem. Procrastination can create anxiety and that is not conducive to creativity.
The second is that just delaying the task is not good enough to improve creativity around it. What Grant and others have confused is the state of procrastination with that of incubation.
Incubation is a part of the creative process and is particularly valuable in a creative problem-solving approach. However, there is an important point to consider here that sets it apart from procrastination. Incubation requires a prepared mind. This means that the incubation occurs after some thinking or work has been done on the issue at hand. Then a period of incubation can allow the unconscious mind to process ideas, and this will eventually be brought into the conscious mind.
So, what is happening in this period of incubation?
Professor Gilhooly refers to the importance of forgetting during incubation. I have experienced this many times as a facilitator of creative techniques. When someone takes on another activity totally unrelated to the issue they had been working on, they continue to incubate unconsciously and consciously focus on the new task. This can result in a kind of forgetting process and when they come back to the issue fresh insights can arise. Alternating techniques can also work to produce this, as can introducing an element of play, or even a walk whilst problem-solving.
How often do we prepare something such as a speech, then when we are doing something else, like taking a shower, fresh thoughts come into our mind to improve on what we had prepared? This is the process of incubation.
Turning procrastination into Incubation
We can therefore turn procrastination into incubation by taking some action on the task. Any action will start the process of our minds working on it while we continue with our lives. The result will be richer for this.
However, a final warning, that if you do not start the process rolling with some work, then the task will end up in that pile of procrastinated tasks and put even more pressure on you.
Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley.
I have written previously about the importance of different creative techniques to help with creative problem solving. One of the barriers to introducing these into the workplace may be the confidence of the leader in facilitating them. Here I want to simplify the process and offer some guidelines for facilitating creative techniques in the workplace.
Creative team having a discussion on new design project in office. Project plan laid on floor with coworkers meeting and discussing.
The first point to make is that for many people at the moment, being at work no longer means being present in the workplace, so many of the techniques may need to be adapted for remote working.
To keep this relatively simple, I have divided the topic up into the main issues to consider, and will address each one in turn.
If people are going to buy into a creative workshop, in whatever form, they need to believe that it has a useful purpose. So, clarify the purpose and consider justifying why this requires a creative workshop? For example, the need to resolve a wicked problem, or a space to create new ideas for the future generation of products.
The ideal space to hold creativity workshops, would be a flexible space, off-site with outdoor space available. Off site is always best as it signals a different way of working. It is hard to change to a creative mode when working in the same environment as your everyday work. If off-site is not an option try and find a space where a conducive atmosphere can be created – for example where there are no tables, nor computers, and plenty of wall space to exhibit outputs as you go along.
If working remotely, for example using Zoom, then ask that participants come with space around them to work, and with the possibility to move around a little. Ask them to have resources at hand, such as coloured pencils and paper.
Timing and structure
I have linked these two together because one will determine the other.
If timing is a constraint, that is you only have a couple of hours, then it is impossible to structure that time for a complete problem-solving process. It would be more realistic to introduce a couple of creative techniques such as brainstorming and a playful variation on it, like reversals.
If, on the other hand it is more important to address a serious wicked problem or plan for a future product, then structure the process and carve out the time required.
The level of experience in use of creative techniques will also influence the time required. The more experienced you and/or the team are, the less time you will need to get into the creative mode.
Choice of technique
- If you are new to this, stay with a technique and structure you feel comfortable with. A facilitator needs to be able to guide participants and then let them free to work on the technique. If you are nervous about trying a new technique you may be tempted to intervene.
- Choose according to the purpose of each session.
- The individual differences of participants may be a factor here. Introverts may take longer to think through their inputs. Build in techniques which they will feel more comfortable with, otherwise the extroverts will dominate.
- In choosing the techniques and planning the sessions, reflect upon whether each technique will work best done individually, in pairs or as a whole group.
- Working alone will work well if it’s an early input around perceptions of a problem.
- Working in pairs for some of the exercises can offer a level of support and comfort.
- Working as a whole group can produce more ideas, as with brainstorming, however there may be issues around everyone being involved. It will depend upon the group. My advice would be anything beyond six needs to be broken down into smaller groups.
Setting ground rules for the creativity session
This is crucial and you will need to think this through in advance and present them for agreement at the beginning. Here are the rules I like to establish:
- Brainstorming rules: defer judgement, go for quantity, the wilder the better, build upon others ideas.
- Be constructive – no negativity
- Be flexible and open to other ideas
- Encourage active listening
You might want to add rules about keeping to time, confidentiality, mobiles off etc.
What resources will you want, or can have?
For example, I usually have lots of coloured pens, post-its and paper for writing and drawing as well as flip chart boards or walls to put paper on.
In general, for successful facilitation
- Have a structure and be flexible enough to change it if necessary. Not all techniques work with everyone. Sometimes you need to try something different to achieve the objective of the session.
- When facilitating a group, start with some warm up exercise, and also have a couple of short energisers to use when energy is starting to flag.
- Set out the instructions for the exercise and then stand back and let the participants work with the technique. It is important not to step in unless it is needed to clarify something. Do not try to influence what is happening.
For more ideas around techniques and how to use them, check out the book I co-wrote with Tracy Stanley.
Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley.
In January I wrote about icebreakers and their value in setting the scene for an event. Today, to follow on from this, I will focus on the importance of raising energy in a meeting and how to do it.
What are energisers?
These are exercises, or some form of activity that can be inserted into a workshop or meeting to raise the energy of the group. Coffee can of course serve that purpose, and it works for me in a morning! However, the use of group energisers increases the energy level of the whole group and can inject a sense of fun into any meeting.
When to use energisers?
Energisers can be used at the beginning of an activity, or during it when energy is dropping in the room. After lunch is a great time for an energiser.
At the beginning of an event an energiser can also work as an icebreaker to create a good environment for the work ahead. For example, if it is a training event encouraging creative thinking, the use an energiser to open up the group and start to develop a creative climate for the event.
Mid-way through a project an energiser can be used to re-invigorate the thinking and energy in the group. This can rekindle the enthusiasm and motivation of the group.
Longer term projects or programs may warrant more time spent on energizers. This can be at the beginning to create a working climate, and throughout the project when energy is starting to flag. For a lengthy program a longer time can be justified in setting the scene. Here, energisers may be of a different nature. Outdoor exercises, dance workshops, cookery classes have been examples of energisers I have noted.
Energisers raise energy when it is most needed.
Use them to develop a group climate for the success of the event/program.
Insert them anywhere into a program or event to reinvigorate it.
They may only need a short time to work.
Energising virtual groups
I have offered a couple of examples of energisers here. However we are currently living in a time when group meetings are not encouraged. Therefore it is important to consider how to energise groups who are meeting virtually.
Many people will be struggling with a loss of energy during these times. Using platforms such as Zoom are good for virtual meetings however, there is a tendancy to sit rather passively when we are facing a screen. Raising energy at the start of such meetings can make a difference to the climate of the meeting and ensure it is more productive.
So how do you do this?
I hope that these simple guidelines may help.
To raise energy people need to be physically active. This is more difficult sitting in front of a screen but not impossible. Ask participants to stretch, to stand, do some gentle exercise before the meeting gets underway properly.
To enable everyone to participate, ensure that each person gets a chance to contribute early on. Prepare in advance and ask them to send in or have something ready to share.
For example, ask each person to send in a photo of themselves as a baby – put these up anonymously and ask participants to decide which one belongs to which participant. You could also use first car, a first pet or favourite song etc.
You could ask each person in turn to state two truths and a lie and ask everyone else to decide which is the lie.
Use your imagination here , prepare ahead, and then limit discussion to two minutes per person.
Create an atmosphere of fun if the meeting warrants it. For training, or creative/innovation working groups then it would. However, for other more serious meetings then use an exercise which is a little more serious. Remember the aim is to encourage sharing and for everyone to raise their energy early on in the meeting.
What have you used to energise a virtual meeting?
Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached people in a variety of corporate settings, and developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently published a book on creativity for leaders with Dr. Tracy Stanley, entitled Creativity Cycling .
What are Icebreakers?
I am sure that many of you, like me, will have had that sinking feeling as we enter a new meeting. Especially when we don’t know anyone. However confident we are, it’s a difficult time.
This is when facilitators can really help to ensure their meetings get off to a good start by using appropriate icebreakers. These are exercises that enable people to get to know one another and feel more comfortable. They help to break down the natural barriers we put up between ourselves and others.
How do Icebreakers help?
- At a basic level they enable people to start to get to know one another and learn other participants names.
- To learn more about the other participants – this may be appropriate when names are already known but little else.
- To enable everyone to speak and therefore make an early contribution. It has been shown that when participants have contributed verbally to a meeting or workshop early, they become more comfortable in later contributions. The opposite is also true.
- To start to feel a bit more comfortable in the room – this follows on from the last point. Who amongst us has never had the feeling of discomfort first time they enter a new group? A positive icebreaker can really help this feeling to disappear.
- To build trust; the more we share with others about ourselves, and others share with us, the more trust we build up.
- To establish a climate for the meeting/workshop etc. This goes beyond the simpler introductions. An icebreaker can be introduced which starts to create a positive atmosphere and in the case of creativity facilitation, a playful fun climate.
In choosing an icebreaker you will need to consider the above points and determine which is the most appropriate purpose for your icebreaker.
Examples of Icebreakers
There are a range of icebreakers that can be used and here I will offer a few examples to suit different purposes.
At a basic level, Self-Introductions, that is that each person in turn introduces themselves, may be enough. However, these are often uncomfortable for the first few participants. How much do we say, what do we say? We are often rehearsing this while we should be listening to others.
An alternative approach which I favour, is to ask people to Interview one another. Working in pairs, or threes depending upon numbers, each person interviews another and then introduces that other person to the whole group. Give a small number of questions that could be used, for example, name, occupation, hobbies, and keep the timing tight.
A more energising and fun icebreaker focusing on names only would be a name game. For example:
Ask participants to stand or sit in a circle and introduce themselves using only their name and an adjective to describe themselves using the first letter of their name. For example, I would say my name, Barbara and use an adjective beginning with B to describe me. So, I might start with bubbly Barbara. The next person, say Tom, then says something like trusting Tom, however he also has to say bubbly Barbara first. Then it goes on – the third person may say I am super Sarah, after saying bubbly Barbara, trusting Tom….
You can probably imagine that this soon descends into laughter and relaxes participants who invariably forget the earlier names!
If more sharing is needed to build trust, you need to use an icebreaker that will enable each person to share more information about themselves. A fun icebreaker for doing this would be what I call Two Truths and a lie.
For this exercise, ask everyone to think of three things to say about themselves, two of which are the truth and one is a lie. After a short while, each participant in turn states the three things, and after each contribution other participants try to identify the lie. This serves the purpose of sharing and can raise the energy in the group creating a playful climate.
A simpler alternative icebreaker where people already know each other would be for each member of the team to share in turn one thing that no-one else knows about them.
I have also experienced and facilitated more elaborate icebreakers which can take up to a couple of hours and can be justified when the program the group will be following is a long one. Examples have included tango dancing lessons, cookery lessons, and outdoor training exercises.
Finally, it is important to keep the timing tight with icebreakers, particularly with short training sessions or meetings. Make it an appropriate amount of time and manage this well.
What are your favourite icebreakers? It would be great to share on this topic.
Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently published a book on creativity for leaders with Dr. Tracy Stanley, entitled Creativity Cycling .