Are you a procrastinator or an incubator?

My good buddy Robert Biswas-Diener, AKA the Indiana Jones of Positive Psychology, tells this story in an article on, 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.

Also, check out Robert’s web site for a lot more great stuff on positive psychology and using your strengths.

Go read the whole article – it rocks!

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10 thoughts on “Are you a procrastinator or an incubator?”

  1. A great post – i like this new category. I think I’ve always been an incubator and never known it until now! There is so much stigma attached to procrastinating and frankly sometimes it is just building up to doing something outstanding. Lovely stuff!

  2. I really like the sound of the term incubator! Telling someone you have the tendency to incubate ideas sound so much better than saying you have the tendency to procrastinate.

    Thanks for introducing us to this paradigm-shifting concept.

  3. Gosh, I’m an incubator – what a relief! I gotta call my mom. She always called me a procrastinator but hey, I was just preparing to hatch the eggs of brilliance.

  4. Incubators of the world unite! If we could find the energy to make that happen, that is… ;o)

    My two cents: When I know which issues are important, I gather input, consciously and subconsciously, and the ideas slowly develop, improving as deadlines draw near. Works in the hammock also! :o)

  5. So, I find myself getting side tracked from time to time and not getting as much one in a given time span as I would like, however I always meet my dedlines and I tend to find some good stuff in my sidet racked time. This used to frustrate me, but thanks to this article I think I would be ok considering myself an Incubator. Great article thanks.

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  7. So who will go register :o)

    We obviously need to organize – and we will obviously do so at the last minute and brilliantly :o)

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