Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Would you rather be productive or creative?

HALLIE EPHRON: A few weeks ago I found a new word: pre-crastinate. I discovered it while not writing my book – in other words, roaming the Internet. AKA PROcrastinating.

The Scientific American blog talked about pre-crastinators (turns out most of us are) who are likely to hurry and get something done so we can cross it off our mental to-do list, even if the rush ends up being wasteful.

You’re a pre-crastinator if you need to…
  • Deal with emails as soon as they come in
  • Write thank you notes the week you get the gift
  • Return phone calls the same day
  • Get to the airport at least an hour before you know you need to be there
  • Pack the night before
  • Start and finish assigned work long before it’s due
Guilty as charged, your honor. As long as what needs doing is a relatively easy task to knock off. The low hanging fruits of a busy life. And it FEELS like I’m being so productive as I check them off my to-do list.

But the ugly truth: I do them in order to put off writing. I do the easy stuff in order to put off doing the hard stuff. 

In other words, for me pre-crastinating can be a form of PROcrasinating. (Like right now I’m dashing off this blog instead of chipping away at my novel.)

Fortunately (for me), though procrastinating is lethal for productivity, it turns out to be something of a boon for creativity.That's according to Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School. (Another article I read while I was NOT writing my book.) 

Procrastinating isn’t such a bad idea if you’re involved in a creative endeavor. And you're in good company. Steve Jobs was a procrastinator. Ditto Bill Clinton and Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Writing is a creative endeavor, right?

I can relate to this, because my first ideas are rarely my best. When I hit a fork in the road, which is every other day in the course of writing a book, the options need to incubate. Gestate. Stew in my brain while I’m knocking off my email and blog and updating my web page. Until voila, what I hope is a golden egg pops out. Hopefully not weeks or months after my manuscript is due. 

What about you? In writing and in life, pre-crastinator or procrastinator, or "it all depends"? 


  1. It all depends. I'm quite good at the procrastinating, but don't always do so as well with the pre-crastinating. While the task may be relatively easy, I'm still likely to let it wait. I suppose you could say my pre-crastinating suffers from my procrastinating . . . .

  2. I love making lists and crossing things off when they are done. But I also have these things called deadlines, so I have to make myself sit and work (that is, after my first hour of internet - I'm unable to work until I've checked what's going on in my cyberworld). But when life interferes for a few days and I can't write, I am that much more eager to get back to my story. Maybe the creativity has had a chance to brew and it's spilling out.

  3. Both. And I get cranky as heck when it's time to stop the pre- and procrastinating, lodge my rear in a chair and get to the task at hand--after that, whew--I'm in the zone!

  4. I don't know. I think I just do things and hope it fits the plan. I think it works most of the time. I mean it must if I graduated on time. Although once I forgot I was taking a class and would have failed if a friend didn't call and ask what I wrote my final essay on... stayed up all night and wrote something that worked. I like what I do a lot, really a lot... so I'm just always doing it. Lourdes Venard probably, no--undoubtedly, would tell you an entirely different story. Waving at Lourdes... I'll be ready!

  5. Reine funny you should mention graduating on time. Because that's one of my anxiety dreams: that I'm in my senior year, it's exam time, I can't find the classroom and haven't been to class and I won't have enough credits to graduate.

    Anxiety dreams and pre/procrastinating are linked. I'm sure of it.

  6. Never heard of pre-crastinate, interesting concept, and just who was looking in my brain! Love your to do list, Haley, aren't the ones with check boxes seductive. I confess on slow accomplishment days, I'll put down completed items just for the satisfaction of making that check mark.

  7. I have that same anxiety dream Reine and Hallie--where I realize close to the end that I never attended one session of the class. Awful! I've occasionally done things like that in real life (EG, the year I was class treasurer and never took the log book for expenses and income out of my locker), and that is a truly terrible feeling.

    I know I get good ideas when I'm not specifically working on a book, but I get LOTS of good ones when I do what the other ladies suggest--sit down and get to work!

  8. Work?? I'd much rather hang around here and respond to comments.

    Lucy, this is a whole new side of you I never imagined -- it's reminding me, another Rorschach for pre/procrastinators is how you log your expenses and income -- when they come in or after you've filed for an extension with the IRS.

  9. I still have that awful nightmare, too, and it's always a course I would never have taken - like astrophysics, or Greek, etc!

    Pre-crastinating/procrastinating -- I do both, depending on the circumstances. I seem to be better at creative work if I procrastinate. Looks like I'm in good company.

  10. Having twice gone on trips because I forgot to pack a toothbrush ("Oh, I'll remember that in the morning") I have to say I'm in the "pack the night before" camp. And I'm a bit fanatic about being on time because of my upbringing - Dad was military and "early is on time, on time is late."

    But the rest? Not sure. I do know I need to shake off the fog of fatigue and get this short story done. But I'm a pro at procrastinating when it comes to starting my day job (witness me being here at 9:20 in the morning).

  11. Mary Sutton, even when I pack the night before I manage to forget the toothbrush. I once forgot underpants. But what packing ahead allows me to do is fall asleep the night before.

  12. I am, as we all know, a terrible procrastinator, and I never have anxiety dreams except the night before I have to catch a plane in the morning - I keep dreaming I missed my alarm, I wake up, check the alarm, go back to sleep, rinse and repeat. I do pack ahead and get to the airport ahead of time, but that's the result of experience, not an innate promptness.

    I do notice, however, that I get very busy and efficient when I'm ducking work. The house is clean, the laundry done and folded, dinner made by 5...

  13. Good to know there is a word for this habit. I'm darn glad to know I'm not the only one who does this stuff.

    I am a sporadic pre-crastinator, usually when I am starting a new project. I've been battling pre-crastination since the new year, kicking myself for failing to get focused. I'm glad to know I am actually germinating something wonderful and creative.


  14. This is interesting, Hallie. And it makes total sense. I always feel like I need to be more like a pre-crastinator -- because that must be very efficient and what efficient people do ... But, when I am being efficient like that, I'm not getting much creative work done.

    Ultimately, I'm a huge procrastinator. Or, as I like to say, I'm like an absentminded professor with every day life things like keeping up on email. Life is what we prioritize--and am I really going to get anal and stressed out all time because my kitchen isn't spotless, the laundry is piling up, and the mail pile is about a foot high? No. Life's too short for that. (That said, I wish I had the money to hire many helpers! That would be great.)

    Related to this, I recently read an article about messiness. How being tidy all the time isn't really all that -- especially for creative folks. Messiness and creativity apparently go together. Thank God! :-)

  15. Fascinating. And agreed, Lisa, about messiness. I bought that Tidying book,but now I forgot where I put it.

    And how would you characterize me?

    I plan for when I'm going to plan. SO for instance, if I have an article due Thursday of next week, I have it on my to do list marked "Saturday." SO I know that I am not going to formally think about it until Saturday. SO--essentially, I put it on a 'don't do' list. Then it;s on the to do list. Then I get the joy of crossing off.

    But I ALWAYS pack the night before, have to. And I ALWAYS get to the airport early. Yeesh. Nothing worse than freaking out that you're late for a plane. Plus, I get a lot done in the airport.

  16. "Log" expenses and income? They all get stuffed into folders.

  17. ANd yes, exactly the same dream. WHY didn't I study? WHY can't I find the classroom?

  18. Yes, you can do so much in the airport. Read, write, sleep.

    I live maybe 45 minutes (non-rush hour) from the airport. For Bouchercon 2015, I left 3 hours early. "Surely, even with morning rush hour and construction, that will be plenty of time."

    I got to the gate as the plane was boarding.

  19. Guilty of pre crash inaction. (I didn't change my auto correct because I thought it summed it up rather well!)
    I'm always ahead if deadline, lacked 3 days before, made lists of what to take a month before, airport early, anxiety dreams about missing my flight.
    But I have learned that writing can't be rushed. I might finish my days quota by mid morning but can't go on because the next pages haven't congealed in my brain. I need down time to drive around, talk to myself, let the scene materialize.

  20. Oh, Rhys, I'm so glad you do that too. I find only bad writing can be rushed.

    And Hank, I'm starting a DON'T DO list - brilliant.

  21. Mary, I've done that! We live literally 20 minutes from the airport and it's taken me 2+ hours to get there. My husband reminds me of that whenever it comes time to decide what time we should leave.

  22. Hallie, I have those dreams, too! Trying to graduate, short a credit, forgot about a class, trying to make up a semester's work in a day.... Doesn't take Freud to figure that one out!

  23. Oh my god, Hank, you just made my day! That's the ultimate absentminded trick, I think. I do that. I'll have tasks on my list for weeks on end--I just don't want to forget that I need to think about them. :-)

    Ugh, I'm logging in all my 2015 receipts now ... I so wish I were the type of person to keep up on it throughout the year. However, I can't believe I'm doing it so early! Last year I didn't get 2014 done until August. Hey, as long as I'm moving in the right direction, right?

  24. I'm laughing because Bill and I call April 15th, "extension day." Our accountant is a dear friend and he does our taxes for free, but we can't ask him to do them during his busy season, so...

    I always say I am an overachiever trapped in a procrastinator's body.

    I am more creative when I marinate on something, particularly in terms of solving tricky plot problems, but for that to work I have to be writing frequently enough that my head is in the game. Otherwise I'm solving totally unwriting-related problems.

    I also marinate a bit after I've written. "Oh, that character has a deep baritone voice" and go back and put notes in the scene.

  25. Love that term, Barbara: Marinate. YES, I especially marinate at night while I'm not falling asleep and in the morning when I'm just lying there not getting up. There's always a pen and paper on the bedside table and most of time I can read the notes I scribble as the muse strikes.

  26. You mean not everyone files their taxes on October 15th??? And what is this "logging receipts" thing?

    As for the pre and pro, I'm a bit of both, although mostly a procrastinator. I do pack the night before trips, because, as Hallie says, otherwise I'll never get to sleep. And I do like to be at the airport really early--although I don't always make it as early as I'd like. (I LOVE being early at the airport. It's like a free zone. You can read, write, have a snack, and NOBODY CAN BOTHER YOU!)

    I'm glad to know that the procrastinating allows my creativity to flourish. But the flourishing only takes place when I am actually making some effort to work...

    Oh, the dream! I have it too, except mine usually takes the form of getting to a class and finding out there's a test that I didn't study for, or a paper due that I knew nothing about.

  27. Count me in as one of the anxiety dreamers who haven't attended that class and a final grade is due. As someone who was quite skilled at school, this dream is disturbing. Then, I have the dream where I haven't turned in assignments to a class, especially a big project, and I'm scrabbling to try and get something in.

    Hank, I love your planning for planning. When I was in graduate school, I kept a datebook in which I would schedule when I was going to work on something and when I would have it finished, well before the due date. Hallie, I guess that would make me a pre-crastinator, but it seems to apply mostly to academic matters. I wish that planning carried over to my daily life. I do like to get to the airport way early, as I'd much rather be there than worrying about getting there. I adore lists and checking off items as a I do them, and, Kait, I have also been known to go back and put down items I accomplished but weren't written down. Some days you just need that.

    I don't pack way ahead for a trip, but I start picking out what I will take a few weeks before, just to make sure I'm going to have enough to take. I don't do the actual packing until a couple of days before and finish up the night before. I sometimes make a list of what I'm taking or need to take so that I won't forget anything. Of course, I pick out what books I'm taking first.

  28. Logging receipts? You mean everyone doesn't spend two days before meeting-with-the-account-day frantically going through credit card and bank statements?

    My husband actually did show up to look at the final exam schedule in college only to discover his final had been two days before. Which may go part of the way to explaining his ten year college career.

  29. You won't have to log receipts if you A) always use a credit card, whenever you can, and B) download your credit card records directly into a Quicken account on your computer.

    For years I did it by hand, about this time of year, then I hired my teenaged daughter to do it when she was still living at home. Then I discovered how to download the information. It's, seriously, a godsend. And if you precode various types of expenses so they correlate with tax line expenses, you can automatically flow your Quicken expenses directly into TurboTax.

    I've done all the above, pre- pro-, you name it. The only consistent thing about how I go about my life is its inconsistency. However, when it comes to packing for a trip I'm usually with those of you who pack the night before, and for the same reason. Otherwise I lie awake and fret about it all night long.

  30. Karen, you are my hero. But I feel about quicken the way I feel about Scrivener. Learning it would add at least a month to how late my book is.

  31. Get Jerry to learn it for you.

    Or I can come over, set it up for you, and show you how to download stuff once a month. Very easy.

  32. I probably don't have to say how wonderful it is that so many amazing writers I admire from here to eternity have that same "last week of school and I never went to math class once" nightmare!

  33. It's a critical part of the ongoing process of genetic survival to have differences. Without differences species die. While the species survives by having a wide range of abilities and talents so some will be left to go on and survive. As individuals we survive best by discovering our best behavioral set for whatever it is we do.

    If you're a plotter, plan and plot. Do it nice and neat from the start.
    If you're a pantser, grab your pants and sit down. Clean it up later.
    Leave room for change, because that happens, too. Like surprises.

    Just my thoughts.