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Boredom and Procrastination might be good?

July 17, 2017

Riding in a car for a long road trip. Listening to a presenter drone on-and-on with seemingly no message to deliver. Stuck in slow-moving or stopped traffic jams for an hour. Waiting in line at the BMV. Do all of those sound boring? What if I was to tell you that might be an opportunity for growth?

In his book The Power of Boredom, philosopher Mark Hawkins describes boredom as “spaces in time containing pure creative potential available for self and life transformation.”

Who among us ever associates “boredom” with “potential”? I certainly don’t. Do any of us feel like when we are bored we might be “available” for “transformation”? Nah. But I do like to look at things in a counter-intuitive way. What if boredom was a way to potentially transform ourselves?

“Properly understood, boredom helps us understand time, and ourselves,” Gayatri Devi, a professor of English at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania wrote. “Unlike fun or work, boredom is not about anything; it is our encounter with pure time as form and content.”

“Pure” time. Not sure I am really buying that. But could we be missing the opportunity to take advantage of those idle moments and hours that are so often missed? Maybe it makes sense to fill the boredom space with curiosity and exploration. I guess you could say that you are taking those “boring minutes”, recognizing them, and turning them into something productive. I am not talking about those long, boring card rides. But think of the times you are in a boring meeting that seems to have nothing to do with your “real” work. Perhaps allowing your mind to wander will create connections you had not thought of before.

For many job seekers, boredom is a fact of life. Days that were once filled with at least eight hours of work are now filled with long periods of boredom sometime. Researchers Gasper and Middlewood feel boredom has a purpose in our lives. They write that boredom “encourages people to explore because it signals that your current situation is lacking so it’s kind of a push to seek out something new”. Let’s face it, we all face times when out “current situation is lacking”. I like “seeking out something new”. Harnessing the potential in that situation might just be the creative connection we need.

Here is another way to think of it. Most of us feel we don’t “have any time”. We are too busy. How about embracing the boring times (we all have them, no matter how busy we are) as our “me time”? Time to allow yourself some space to relax or to be creative?

It is tough to find an inspiring quote with the word “Procrastinate” in it

I tend to think of procrastination as a “distant cousin” of boredom. Procrastination is the act of postponing or not doing something. It, too, has a negative connotation. We are generally putting off something that needs to be done. You don’t very often find someone who will say “procrastination is one of my strengths”. We generally do not link procrastination with anything creative or action oriented.

But the author and professor Adam Grant wrote about the positive benefits of procrastinating in his book, Originals (even though Grant admits to hating to procrastinate). He says the reason procrastination may have benefits is that our initial thoughts are often our most conventional ones. Procrastination gives space for a person’s mind to wander, leading to more innovative ideas. Using procrastination, we actually get creative. He sites Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as two examples where the speaker waited until the last minute to finish the address. That is not to say they waited to start the address. They had written and revised it many times over a period of time, honing their thoughts as creative points surfaced. But they allowed procrastination to enrich the message, up until the last minute.

So long as you’re delaying your work with the explicit idea of coming back to it, Grant says in a recent TED talk, “procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps.”

Procrastinating doesn’t work in all cases. If you really wait until the last minute to do something, you’ll probably find yourself scrambling to cobble something together haphazardly. The work won’t be creative; it’ll be desperate. To arrive at something truly unique, you always need the slow and sometimes frustrating ingredient of time. That is Grant’s basic idea. Use that time by starting on an idea, then let it sit for a while. Allow yourself time to make connections and arrive at creative thoughts.

I have found myself looking at how I do major things like presentations and even these blog posts. I am not a person than anyone would call a “procrastinator”. I plan things out. I don’t like to be late. I don’t like deadlines to sneak up on me. I have never been one to “cram” at the very last minute. But I realize I am using procrastination to make my work better. By getting started, then leaving it sit, I find my mind working on the post or the presentation in the background. Ideas pop into my head later, and I incorporate them. I might eventually write five revisions of a post. Not because it was necessarily “bad”. No, it’s because I found a more creative or more interesting way to express things.

Heck, maybe I am taking advantage of those “boring” times to “encounter” my ideas in a more interesting way. So the next time you find yourself bored or procrastinating, think about how you might use the time to be creative or to make new connections in your thoughts.

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