Skip to main content

How Procrastination Can Help You Generate New Ideas (5 Steps)

By Som Bathla

It was the most important evening for Martin Luther King in the year 1963, as the next day, he had to deliver his life’s biggest speech ever.

He was up till 3 a.m. rewriting, deleting, and improving certain portions of his speech.

Later, he was sitting in the audience and still scribbling his speech notes and making some tweaks here and there.

Then the time arrived, he was on the stage with his prepared speech notes.

But just a few minutes into the speech, he left his prepared speech aside and then uttered the four most important words that made history —

“I have a dream.”

These words were not part of his prepared speech.

By procrastinating the preparation of his speech till the last hour, he allowed a longer thinking time for his mind to let the ideas develop well.

That’s what procrastination does when it comes to creativity.

It gives you enough time to consider divergent ideas, to think in non-linear ways, and to make unexpected moves.

We all have heard enough that procrastination is the culprit that stops us from taking action and moving towards our goals.

But here is the key point:

Procrastination is a vice when it comes to productivity, but it becomes a virtue for creativity.

Adam Grant, in his famous TED speech, talks about how procrastinators develop more creative ideas.

The research comprised of few people who were asked to develop some new business ideas. Now, they were divided into two groups.

One group was asked to immediately get on the job.

The other group was asked to play some games for 5 to 10 minutes before they could think of specific ideas.

The people in the latter group were found to be 16% more creative.

Why was it so?

There was nothing special about the game they played.

The reason for them being more creative was that they were told about working on a problem and then they were allowed to procrastinate working on the problem — in this case, the task was still in the back of their minds, which allows the ideas to incubate in that space.

Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said,“All great ideas come in the bus, bed, and bath.”

You may call it 3 B’s of creativity :-)

But the message it conveys is that the amazing ideas come when you are not thinking about them.

‘Eureka’ moment that made Archimedes run naked?

The most famous known example regarding creativity — that’s often referred to as Eureka moment relates to Archimedes, the Greek mathematician.

He was asked by a king, who was suspecting that a golden crown contained more silver than gold, to device a method whereby one could know the purity of a metal.

Archimedes spent days and nights on this problem, but couldn’t find the answer.

Then he thought to keep the problem aside and went for a hot bath in the tub.

As he was relaxing in the hot bath, he realized that the water overflowed when he put his body in the water- and this created a unique solution for him.

He concluded that a pure gold crown would displace a different amount of water than the one made by an alloy.

The history records that he was so excited to find this answer that he ran naked out of his bed in the streets shouting “Eureka”! (I’ve found it!).

The Story of How Air-conditioning was invented

Let’s look at another interesting story to understand the power of procrastinating.

William Carrier, a twenty-five-year-old Engineer graduate, was sitting at Pittsburgh Railways station on a foggy day in year the 1902.

He was working on the problem of regulating temperature humidity in a printing company.

After spending intense time in the problem and not being able to find a solution, he thought to give it a break and therefore was waiting at a station to go for a vacation.

He was mindlessly gazing at the fog and mist at the railway station, and suddenly sparked the brilliant idea about the problem that he was working so intensely.

The answer to his problem was air-conditioning.

He thought to combine the two technologies, namely electricity and refrigeration.

His idea was to blow air through electricity through a fine mist generated through refrigeration, and that would act like a condenser drying out the humid air.

He discovered that change in the temperature of the mist would also alter the level of humidity. And that’s how the invention of air-conditioning happened.

You would notice here that Carrier didn’t burn himself out by consistently immersing under the problem until it was resolved, rather, he chose to procrastinate finding the solution to the problem — this allowed the required incubation period for his ideas.

In all the above examples, the principle of incubation worked.

Your subconscious mind is continually processing information when you have already done the hard work of loading your conscious mind with huge pieces of information.

It usually involves setting your problem aside for a few hours, days, or weeks and moving on to other projects.

Though you get away from the challenge, but your subconscious mind continues working on the original challenge in the background.

The more interested you are in solving a challenge, the more likely it is that your subconscious will generate ideas.

Incubation helps you put the challenge in perspective.

When you leave a problem and come back to it again, you will have a fresh perspective of looking at it.

Here is the step-by-step process for activating the incubation of Ideas through procrastination:

· Identify — What are the challenges you want to solve and how would the solution look like?

· Prepare — Prepare as thoroughly as you can from all the sources.

· Instruct — Instruct your subconscious mind to find the answer.

· Incubate — Now, leave the problem aside — don’t work on the problem, go and do something else. Maybe take a shower or go on vacations, etc.

· Eureka- the moment will jump out of air suddenly, and you will be supplied with the great idea that can transform your life.

How to Put this Process in Practice?

1. Whenever you come across a challenge, the first step that is needed is to do enough research about all aspects of the problem.

Read enough literature. Google all the information, search videos, blogs, podcasts on the subject.

2. The test that you have done enough research is that your head starts reeling with loads of information.

This means that you have loaded the frontal lobe of your brain called prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for learning new information.

3. Now, get away from the challenge for a day or two, or engage yourself into some other project.

This will trigger the incubation process, as all the research you have done will start getting processed in your head, and you might get a better solution than what you could have got by forcing your head to give you a solution.

4. Stay relaxed and wait for your Eureka moment.

It will come at a time and places generally when you least expect it to come.

Hope you enjoyed this email and learned something new.

Hit reply and let me know what did you learn or found interesting in this email. I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Som Bathla

​1001, 10th Floor,, Bestech Park View Ananda, Sector 81, Gurgaon, Haryana 122004


Popular posts from this blog

Menon meets Karzai, discusses security of Indians

Kabul/New Delhi/Washington, March 5 (IANS) India Friday said that the Feb 26 terror attack in Kabul will not deter it from helping rebuild Afghanistan as National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon met Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul to review the security of around 4,000 Indians working in that country. Menon, who arrived here Friday morning on a two-day visit, discussed with Karzai some proposals to bolster security of Indians engaged in a wide array of reconstruction activities, ranging from building roads, bridges and power stations to social sector projects. The Indian government is contemplating a slew of steps to secure Indians in Afghanistan, including setting up protected venues where the Indians working on various reconstruction projects will be based. Deploying dedicated security personnel at places where Indians work is also being considered. Menon also met his Afghan counterpart Rangin Dadfar Spanta and enquired about the progress in the probe into the Kabul atta

Iran is losing the game to regional actors in its strategic depth

Rethink before It’s Too Late Iran is losing the game to regional actors in its strategic depth –Afghanistan. By Houman Dolati It is no more a surprise to see Iran absent in Afghanistan affairs. Nowadays, the Bonn Conference and Iran’s contributions to Afghanistan look more like a fading memory. Iran, which had promised of loans and credit worth five-hundred million dollars for Afghanistan, and tried to serve a key role, more than many other countries, for reconstruction and stabilization of Afghanistan, is now trying to efface that memory, saying it is a wrong path, even for the international community. Iran’s empty seat in the Rome Conference was another step backward for Afghanistan’s influential neighbor. Many other countries were surprised with Iran’s absence. Finding out the vanity of its efforts to justify absence in Rome, Iran tried to start its

Pakistani firm whose chemicals were used to kill US troops seeks subsidy for Indiana plant

By Jennifer Griffin, Justin Fishel Published March 22, 2013   A Pakistani fertilizer maker whose chemicals have been used in 80 percent of the roadside bombs that have killed and maimed American troops in Afghanistan is now seeking U.S. taxpayer subsidies in order to open a factory in Indiana.  The request appears to be on hold pending further review, but the situation has stirred outrage in Congress, where some accuse the Pakistani government of halting efforts to clamp down on the bomb-making.  For the past seven years, the U.S. government has known that the raw material calcium ammonium nitrate, or CAN, is making its way across the border into Afghanistan where the Taliban use it to fuel their most deadly weapons, namely the improvised explosive device. IEDs have long been the number one killer of U.S. and coalition troops.  The material largely comes from Pakistani fertilizer maker the Fatima Group. But the Pakistani government has stymied attempts by the Pentagon to stop the