My good buddy Robert Biswas-Diener, AKA the Indiana Jones of Positive Psychology, tells this story in an article on cnn.com, that fits in perfectly with my post from yesterday about the rules of productivity of knowledge workers:
Mark had only a handful of days to write applications for internships, turn in final papers and secure letters of recommendation and had fallen into a deep funk. Not only was there no progress, but he had frittered away hours in meaningless pastimes like downloading music and walking in the park.
Mark uttered the all-too-familiar phrase, “I am such a procrastinator!”
My instincts told me that it was not a lifetime of chronic procrastination that led Mark to his current situation. On a hunch, I asked him a crucial question, “When you get around to completing your work — and we both know that you eventually will — how will the quality be?”
My client seemed taken aback by the question. He answered with confidence, a single word: “Superior!”
I realized, in that moment, that there may be a subtle but important difference between the “back burner” mentality I saw in my client and the traditional way a procrastinator works.
What Mark presented was something qualitatively different: a clear sense of deadlines, confidence that the work would be complete on time, certainty that the work would be of superior quality and the ability to subconsciously process important ideas while doing other — often recreational — activities.
I realized I was looking at a strength, one I called “incubator.” When I shared this term with Mark, he felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders.
Robert goes on to explain the key differences between procrastinators and incubators based on a study he did of 184 students. There’s even a test you can take to figure out if you’re an incubator or a regular old procrastinator.
Go read the whole article – it rocks!