Procrastination: The office curse or the key to employee creativity?

BrightHRs Head of Brand Communications Sheryl Cookson argues you cant schedule a creative mind if you want it to thrive in business

Sheryl Cookson: BrightHR Head of Brand

A recent article by Adam Grant for the New York Times discussed the myth of procrastination and its ‘curse’ on the work place. His findings showed around 20 per cent of adults reported being chronic procrastinators, arguing it would probably have been much higher had they gotten around to filling in the survey!

But while procrastination is a vice for productivity, Grant believes that it is a virtue for creativity. Procrastinators, he claims, are at the mercy of the ‘Instant Gratification Monkey’ who inhabits their brains, constantly asking questions like “why would we ever use a computer for work when the Internet is sitting right there waiting to be played with?”. If you’re a procrastinator, overcoming that monkey can require herculean amounts of willpower.

This is all very interesting but I believe it is wrong for businesses to lumber procrastinators in the ‘lazy’, instantly gratified category. Procrastination is often seen as a way of putting things off you don’t enjoy doing and used as a vice to concentrate on the things you do enjoy.

I challenge that view. By concentrating on your natural strengths and working on things you enjoy doing can actually lead you to unknown successes – and in turn inspire and enthuse those working around you.

Focusing on work you’d rather put off will probably only ever get you mediocre results. I always question, why I’m putting off a task, does it actually need doing or is there a better way to approach it?

After returning from a two week holiday I found myself sifting through hundreds of emails. Dreading the thought of ploughing through, I procrastinated by having a cuppa and a verbal catch up with everyone in the office. Interestingly what I found in a series of 10 minute conversations I was being brought up to speed on everything I had missed – and in more detail.

I had a good understanding of what needed my attention. I then got on with the key tasks and archived my unopened emails, thinking I will get to them soon — six months on I still haven’t gone through the emails! By procrastinating I found a better way of getting up to speed and was more efficient in my first day back as a result.

As head of brand communications, I am required to be creative and therefore I would argue you can’t schedule creativity, especially in an office environment when your time is often dictated by meetings, business issues and your employees. When you get a creative idea, you need to find time to explore it there and then. Other things like budgeting, reporting etc. can be scheduled. So what other people see as procrastination, I see as following your creative flow and seeing where it can take you.