Why Letting Ideas Percolate Is Worthwhile (And How to Do It)

Letting Ideas Percolate

Does slowing down mean putting your productivity at risk? Not necessarily.

Wharton School professor and author Adam Grant shared his experience in the New York Times. The title: “Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate.”

What I discovered was that in every creative project, there are moments that require thinking more laterally and, yes, more slowly. My natural need to finish early was a way of shutting down complicating thoughts that sent me whirling in new directions. I was avoiding the pain of divergent thinking — but I was also missing out on its rewards.

You can get the benefits of slowing down. And you don’t have to jeopardize your productivity to do it.

Read on for 5 small, simple practices you can use to slow things down.

1. Invest two minutes in “planting” the idea

You can jot down your thoughts, dictating an email to yourself, or frame it as a question and write it on a Post-it.

In other words, if you’re going to “set it and forget it,” you have to “set it” first. Get yourself thinking about it before you switch gears.

2. Build the time into your planning process

Giving yourself time to mull things shouldn’t put deadlines at risk, and it doesn’t have to.Your goal isn’t to throw the planning process out the window, especially if you’re on a deadline.

Build a time buffer in at key stages of a project in advance. This will give you the freedom to think things over without having an impact on the project timeframe.

See how Redbooth makes it easy to manage multiple client projects >>

3. Rethink your concept of a task

Does every task need to translate into a deliverable or an action? That depends on your definition of a task — and your personality type.

If you’re an action-oriented person, you may crave “action items.” It may feel awkward at first to create a to-do item that doesn’t result in tangible output.

If this idea seems strange to you, that’s a signal that it might be especially useful to give it a try. You might surprise yourself with the insights or ideas you’re able to come up with.

4. Try out “structured procrastination”

Multitasking gets a bad rap, and deservedly so (it can turn a simple task into a life-or-death situation). But structured procrastination, a term coined by John Perry in a famous essay (and even available now on a t-shirt), can help. It gives you a way to process ideas while accomplishing other important tasks.

Perry explains that the key to structured procrastination is identifying the thing that you feel you should be doing, but don’t want to do. Then do something else (that happens to also be worth doing) instead:

Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it….

If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.

You can use structured procrastination to think over your ideas and let new ones come to the surface. Then once you’ve started thinking about an important project or challenge, switch gears — and work on something else. Let the gears turn in the background while you get something else done.

5. Schedule an automatic reminder

Having time to let ideas percolate is incredibly valuable. But if you also charge your brain with remembering to actually use those ideas, you’re giving it too much to do. Why waste the mental resources?

You also run the risk of forgetting altogether, which defeats the entire purpose. Set a reminder you can’t ignore in your calendar, in your to-do list, or in your or task management software. You can devote your mental resources elsewhere, knowing that you’ll be reminded.

Creative ideas take time to generate

Do you need to give every project and idea time to percolate? Probably not.

But when you have an opportunity to wow a client, rebuild a process, or generate a breakthrough idea, take some time to let your ideas percolate. You deserve the benefits that come with a head start.