So just as we were finishing these experiments, I was starting to write a book about originals, and I thought, “This is the perfect time to teach myself to procrastinate, while writing a chapter on procrastination.” So I metaprocrastinated, and like any self-respecting precrastinator, I woke up early the next morning and I made a to-do list with steps on how to procrastinate.
And then I worked diligently toward my goal of not making progress toward my goal. I started writing the procrastination chapter, and one day — I was halfway through — I literally put it away in mid-sentence for months. It was agony.
But when I came back to it, I had all sorts of new ideas. As Aaron Sorkin put it, “You call it procrastinating. I call it thinking.” And along the way I discovered that a lot of great originals in history were procrastinators. Take Leonardo da Vinci. He toiled on and off for 16 years on the Mona Lisa. He felt like a failure. He wrote as much in his journal. But some of the diversions he took in optics transformed the way that he modeled light and made him into a much better painter.
What about Martin Luther King, Jr.? The night before the biggest speech of his life, the March on Washington, he was up past 3am, rewriting it. He’s sitting in the audience waiting for his turn to go onstage, and he is still scribbling notes and crossing out lines. When he gets onstage, 11 minutes in, he leaves his prepared remarks to utter four words that changed the course of history: “I have a dream.” That was not in the script. By delaying the task of finalizing the speech until the very last minute, he left himself open to the widest range of possible ideas. And because the text wasn’t set in stone, he had freedom to improvise.