Do put off until tomorrow —Mom was wrong

Do put off until tomorrow —Mom was wrong

Before I began this article, I thumbed through a whole stack of notes I’d made over the course of the year for future posts — and tossed them all aside with a sigh. Then I did a million other things. For about three weeks.

Was that procrastination? I wouldn’t doubt that nine out of ten women, when they put a project aside, label themselves as procrastinators (which, as far as I know, has never made anyone move faster).  And, by the way, applying a label – a noun – is even more of a condemnation than using the verb. “I am a procrastinator” can quickly become a permanent way of seeing yourself; “I am procrastinating” is a statement that may be true in the moment.

Or it may not. Sometimes you might push back a project week after week out of the fear of not being able to deliver it at the standard you’ve set for yourself. You could choose to call that procrastination and then dutifully berate yourself. But that certainly won’t build the confidence you need to get moving. So why do it? Instead, let’s ditch the label, just call it fear, and serve up a little compassion, accompanied by a latté and a dark chocolate truffle.

However, not every delay is about fear, and mine wasn’t.

I’d given myself a tricky assignment – and I was working on it. The objective: to provide an actionable insight that would apply both to you as an individual and, if you’re a mom, to your children. In a virtuous circle, understanding yourself would allow you to see your daughter’s struggles differently; circling in the other direction, understanding her would allow you to see yourself in a new way. As I pored through scores of Facebook posts that came my way during those the weeks, listened to the experiences of the many people I talked to, paid attention to my own current challenges, all the time, my mind was at work.

That form of “working” is referred to by some less-than-original thinkers as “wasting time.” However, in my travels, I came upon a TED talk called “The surprising habits of original thinkers” by organizational psychologist Adam Grant, who would disagree. Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

  • Research shows that people who rush right into a task and finish early are rated as less creative than those who read over the requirements and then put it away for a while before starting.
  • In the gap in time between when you learn about the task and when you actually begin, your mind is working through possibilities, combining ideas in new ways –

Summing it up eloquently, Grant shared a quote from Aaron Sorkin, creator of “West Wing,” “Studio 60,” and “Newsroom” among other gems:

“You call it procrastinating. I call it thinking.”

Exactly.  Aaron Sorkin nails it again.

My “procrastinating” next led me to the most delightful Kindle app yet : ), a coloring app (aptly called Coloring) that provides enchanting, imaginative line drawings along with the tools for you to color them in your own original way. Is this a time waster? I would argue that it is not. It activates the brain to pull together a color scheme and watch it come to life – a metaphor one step away from the as-yet unfinished assignment. All the while, ideas are incubating beneath the surface, occasionally bubbling to top.

“If something is not impossible, then there must be a way to do it.”  — Sir Nicholas Winton

I still didn’t have all I needed, but it came to me next, as I continued to “waste time.” Looking through my email, I was drawn to a link to a book about a true hero named Sir Nicholas Winton.

Winton, who died recently at the age of 106, was one of those inspirational people who see something that needs to be done and do it. In 1938, when he was a young London stockbroker, only 29 years old, he was requested by a friend to come to Prague to witness the refugee crisis. Britain at that time had a program called Kindertransport for rescuing Jewish children from Germany and Austria, but there was nothing in place to save Czech children from the Nazis.

So Winton created it.

The rescue effort involved “dangers, bribes, forgery, secret contacts with the Gestapo, nine railroad trains, an avalanche of paperwork and a lot of money.” It must have appeared impossible.

“If something is not impossible,” Winton was later quoted as saying, “then there must be a way to do it.”

And he did it.  With his massive efforts, Winton was able to rescue and place in foster homes 669 children who otherwise would have died horribly.

(Winton’s precious actions did not become known to the world until 1988 when his wife discovered a scrapbook in the attic that told the story.  Read more about Sir Nicholas Winton here.)

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When I returned to writing, it was with this vivid swirl of brilliant threads now ready to be woven together.

There are two messages here. First, from the fresh slant on creativity that my odyssey has delivered come these steps for you to try:

  • When you start on a task that invites creativity and original thinking, put it away for a while after you’ve studied the requirements.
  • Let your ideas germinate beneath the surface, while you allow your mind to travel here, there, and everywhere to gather unexpected bits and pieces that ultimately you will weave together.
  • Give the seedlings time to incubate by picking up a pastime that allows your mind to glance at them as you play.
  • When you’re stuck, don’t label yourself. Instead, ask yourself, “Is it fear – or is it thinking?”
  • If you stay stuck, ask yourself, “Is this thinking – or is it wasting time?”
  • If success seems out of reach, think of 29-year-old “Nicky” lifting 669 children from Czechoslovakia, and by that act, erasing from their futures almost certain death. Bolster your determination with Winton’s powerful declaration that “if something is not impossible, then there must be a way to do it.”
  • Then, when you’ve got enough to go on, create, start over, redesign, and then do it again. You’ll recognize the clear gleam of truth when your finished project begins to emerge.

In extending to yourself this trust in your commitment to your work along with the grace of your own pace, you will begin to grant the same understanding to your daughter – or friend or partner – when they seem to be off to a slow start on a challenging project. Try it out, first on yourself, then with someone else.

The second message reaches beyond the topics of procrastination and creativity. The unfolding of your unique self has tremendous impact on the other people in your life and on your relationships with them. Whenever you grow, the people around you gain a chance to grow. The bigger message is that far from being an indulgence, time spent understanding yourself creates circular ripples that drift outward, ever outward, potentially reaching people you will never know.