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  • Writer's picturePeter VanderPoel

Better Late than On Time

In Support of Procrastination

In professional baseball, when a batter would come to the plate and obliterate the back chalk line of the batter’s box with his cleats, the odds were good that the the hitter was a student of Charley Lau. He advised his hitters to stand back as far as possible in the box to give themselves a fraction of a second more to evaluate a pitch. That’s procrastination. They would still have to make the decision but they had a slight advantage over those who didn’t use this technique. That extra time was an important benefit of procrastination-the fertile ground where other options avail themselves in what some might consider wasted time.

We are familiar with deductive thinking, winnowing clues to find the one, unassailable answer (think Sherlock Holmes). We are also aware of inductive thinking, where relevant examples are accumulated to provide useful generalities (think ergomonics). We are not as fond of abductive thinking, where we move away from a problem to find other experiences and information that might prove relevant to the original problem. Another name for abductive thinking is ‘Design Thinking’.

This is one of the benefits of procrastination. Procrastination is often accompanied by doing something unrelated that might shed light on the original problem while also allowing time for parallel, background processes to continue fermenting on the original problem out of sight of the conscious mind.

There is a constant flow of new information coming to light about brain function and creativity. One study links sleep to new ideas where sleeps acts as an unconscious ‘letting go’ of rigid patterns of thinking - an opportunity to examine another path unburdened by routinized, conscious thought. One obvious advantage of procrastination is the greater amount of time in sleep, more dreaming and an increase in the possibility of productive dreaming to arrive at a solution or insight.

Similarly, time provides useful metaphors to accumulate . The longer one has lived, the more life experiences and observations are available for applying to various problems. In the short term, more idle thought provides more opportunities for useful metaphors to appear, guiding the thinker to more (and more thoughtful) solutions. That’s what Charley Lau thought.

When a new project was handed out in architecture studios, the students’s initial reaction to the project would often fall into one of a few, standard categories:

1. Those who know exactly what they're going to do, and it will work, damn it.

2. Those who have no idea what they're going to do and desperately want to be in the first category

3. Those who have no idea what they're going to do but are comfortable that through active design- design as a verb, that the problem and circumstances and time will tell them what to do.

The last group would usually have the best designs because they had the best design process. They did not prejudge; they learned that design was an iterative and revelatory process. What you want to do is discovered through thinking about the task in an active way through models, drawings, etc. combined with time spent NOT thinking about the problem but living a reflective life and allowing those experiences to mingle with the design. All those musings take time. Although they may drift far from the problem at hand that mental walk in the woods might result in an original response to a problem.

Yes? Sleep on it.

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