It took Leonardo da Vinci years to finish painting the Mona Lisa. You could say the masterpiece was created by a master procrastinator. Sure, da Vinci wasn’t under a tight deadline, but his lengthy process demonstrates the idea that we need to work through a lot of bad ideas before we get down to the good ones. Procrastination tactics can help with this process, says Jeremie Bacon, CEO of Imagineer Technology Group, a relationship management software provider.
“The creative process can take time for people to get to the desired outcome,” he says. “While he was working on the Mona Lisa, da Vinci knew something was missing, but he wasn’t sure what it was. Rather than force his way to a finished product, he procrastinated finishing it by working on other projects.” In the meantime, he learned more about light and scale—which allowed him to finally finish.
When used correctly, procrastination can be a helpful business tool, yet it’s often untapped, says Bacon. He’s used its positive attributes to grow his career and his company with these three tactics:
When you’re jumping around
Instead of working on one project from start to finish, moving from project to project keeps your mind alive, says Bacon. “What may appear as procrastinating on one task or project, is actually just leaving time for additional ideas to come to mind,” he says. “It can take a lot of trying until you get to an idea worth pursuing. It’s good to be quick to start and slow to finish.”
While you’re engaged with another project, your mind is still processing the first project. “Get to a certain point and then walk away,” Bacon suggests. “Your brain is still noodling on the problem, thinking of different angles. By procrastinating you’re able to wait for every possible angle to arise, which is much more creative and produces better results.”
When you’re keeping the middle open
Think about the beginning and end of a project but leave everything in the middle up for grabs. This allows you to start planning and set a goal without holding to an unattainable timeframe, says Bacon.
“When we start building software, we have a good sense of how to start,” he says. “We have the core ingredients and can envision the end state. We know the tools and frameworks we need to put in place to start building, but we have a lot of ground to cover in the middle, with features and bugs. The middle process is where you figure out the good, bad, and the ugly.”
By keeping the middle parts of the project open you can maintain an open-minded framework as you take the next step. “This helps me to think in nonlinear ways by letting ideas stew,” says Bacon. “When inspiration comes it’s often totally unexpected.”
When you’re keeping active otherwise
Nothing good happens when leaders are idle, says Bacon. He keeps his mind fresh by pushing forward on multiple projects, both professional and personal, while leaving some to stew.
“A lot of people procrastinate in idle ways, like vegging on the couch and binge-watching TV shows, with no purpose for that time,” he says. “For me if I don’t have something scheduled or planned I lose my creativity and sense of drive and ambition.” When you’re procrastinating on a project, fill the time with activities and objectives. “It’s easier to pivot when you create alternatives,” he says.
Creative procrastination can help you find better ideas. “It’s a skill,” says Bacon. “Use it as an opportunity to noodle on ideas and think about the before and after. While it can vary from person to person, procrastination is healthy when it helps us drive more creativity and clarity of purpose.”