In today’s modern world, procrastination is seen as a negative thing. It is seen as a “disease” that needs to be eliminated. Thousands of self-help books, blog posts, and podcasts encourage and teach us how to overcome procrastination — and get more things done.
But what if there are certain things that shouldn’t be done immediately— and should be left undone? What if procrastination can be a good thing (in certain circumstances)? What if procrastination can actually help us be more creative in life and our photography?
Incubation for creativity
What I have personally found (and read a lot in “creativity” books) is that often creativity needs an “incubation” phase. We need to take a lot of time finding inspiration in the world— through film, media, books, advice from other creatives, in nature, and people. The more we stuff our mind with inspirational ideas, thoughts, words, lyrics, images, or art— the more opportunity we have to create novel ideas, connections, and innovations.
But this takes time. We can’t “force” ourselves to be creative. It often takes a long time— sometimes even decades, before we have certain “aha” moments or creative breakthroughs.
My buddy Vincent Tam recommended the book “Originals” to me— and I thoroughly enjoyed the chapter on how many creatives have used procrastination in a positive way.
For example, Leonardo da Vinci procrastinated for many years on the Mona Lisa— before he figured he was ready to create it. During his years of “procrastination” — he learned optical techniques which helped him improve his rendering of light in his paintings. Not only that, but Martin Luther King Jr also procrastinated on his “I have a dream” speech (he stayed up until around 3-4am in the morning, putting the final touches on his speech) and ultimately he improved his speech (apparently the phrase: “I have a dream” wasn’t in the original script).
The upside of procrastination in creativity is that often we aren’t ready to create the work we want to create.
For example, let’s say you have a photography project idea. And you procrastinate on starting it. You want all the puzzle pieces to be in sync before you start.
But what if your body is procrastinating on your photography project because your subconscious is telling you that you don’t really want to work on the project? I honestly don’t think you should ever “force” yourself to start a photography project that your heart truly doesn’t want to.
Even for me— often I procrastinate a long time before publishing a photo project. I go through endless edits, never finding a final sequence or edit that satisfies me. But the upside of the procrastination is that it helps me “marinate” and sit on my photos for a really long time— and often giving your creative projects more time is what it needs. The more time I let my photos sit, the more objectivity I gain in judging them as “good” or “bad” (to my personal standards).
Action without action
I am very interested in decision-making theory and psychology. One of the things I’ve personally learned for myself is that all the truly important things in life shouldn’t need to be forced. In Taoism there is a concept of “wu-wei” (action without action). It doesn’t mean doing nothing— but it means doing things swiftly, effortlessly, and without straining yourself.
Even as I’m writing this— I have a nice caffeine buzz from the coffee I’m drinking at the airport, and the words are effortlessly exiting my fingertips. Sometimes as a writer I feel obliged to write everyday— but the days where I don’t want to write, and I force myself to write, I always feel dissatisfied with my writing (it feels forced, instead of authentic).
When you are making any creative decision— using “strategic procrastination” might be a good thing. If you’re not sure whether you should start a photographic project or not, perhaps sit on it for a few weeks (or even a few months) before you decide to start it. If your heart truly wants you to do a certain photography project, you will start it without any effort. You will go out and do it.
Also sometimes with emails and other work-related manners; procrastination can be a good thing. Sometimes by procrastinating on answering an email or dealing with some sort of business issue— the problem solves itself (without needing your intervention).
Good decisions should be obvious, and shouldn’t need you to “force” yourself to make a decision.
For example, if you want to buy a new camera, and you’re having a hard time to justify the purchase— just don’t buy it. You’re just trying to justify an unnecessary purchase; and that unnecessary purchase might mean that you have “buyer’s remorse” later on.
But let’s say you want (or need) a new camera— and you don’t think about it much and just buy it. There will be a lot less stress, because an effortless decision to buy something would probably mean that you really needed to buy something.
For example, when I gave away my original Ricoh GR to a friend, it was a painless experience going on Amazon, and buying the new Ricoh GR II as “buy it now” (I also found the price to be sweet). However I know if I wanted to buy a more expensive camera, I would agonize over the process, and would never be able to justify the cost to myself. And if I ended up buying the expensive camera anyways, I would probably have tons of buyer’s remorse afterwards.
Learning to love procrastination
Don’t get me wrong— there are still things that you should not procrastinate too much on— like doing your taxes, paying medical bills, etc. But for the most important things in life; things naturally tend to work themselves out.
So stress less, and procrastinate more. I do believe that our bodies do have some sort of hidden intelligence that helps guide our decision-making far better than any “logical” processes.
And even for me— I still feel massively guilty on procrastinating on certain things, and feel bad whenever I’m not “always productive.” But I’m trying to learn everyday to live my daily life with less stress— and learning to accept procrastination as my body’s internal wisdom.
So think for yourself— how are some other ways you can let procrastination be used in a positive way in your life— in your work, daily life, and photography.
What do you truly want in your photography and life? Focus on what’s truly important to you— and it’s okay to let everything else slide by.