Part 1: Deadlines Do they Matter?
Confession: I’ve recently become a procrastinator
I’d agreed to lead a teacher in-service training on creativity, at the moment it seemed like no big deal, creativity is my jam. I marked the date on my calendar, did some backwards planning, and knew exactly what I needed to do and when I needed to do it in order to have my presentation/workshop ready on time.
And then, I put it off, and put it off, finally sitting down to work 5 days before the training. 15 minutes into working, the really sneaky side of procrastination, also called resistance showed up. I decided that I wasn’t good enough, that I surely didn’t know enough about creativity ( tossing out the 10 years of teaching art and creativity, my masters in creativity studies, and the fact that I’m also a working artist). So I did what anyone would do in this moment, I went down the deep and very dark hole of the internet.
It started by my thinking that I must be the best speaker ever, because if you’re going to teach teachers, well than you better be one damn good teacher. I turned to the Science of People and their research on the top 20 TED talks. Here’s what I learned….. aka how I procrastinated for an ENTIRE day.
- read about and then watched a 20 minute TED talk on how to be charismatic. People that know me, or have seen me speak crack up when I tell them this… as charisma is not something that I lack… but I was committed.
- Next read and watched a TED talk about body language and Power posing, never mind that I”d already watched this talk, and teach this technique to my students.
- Then I learned that another technique is to smile while you speak, so I watched another 20 minute TED talk and watched how much the speaker smiled. For those mathematicians out there, yes, we’re already at an hour, but I pretended that I wasn’t wasting time, because I was doing “research.” ( sound familiar?)
- This led me to another 20 minute talk where I learned the shape, yes I said shape, of a perfect speech. Then I proceeded to try to make my presentation fit into that shape.
- Somehow I ended up on Netflix, and discovered a documentary called the First Monday of May, it’s art history/ fashion related… I teacher art history, so I NEEDED to watch it. ( 1 hour 30 minutes)
- After watching said documentary, I decided that I needed to write an art history lesson plan about being an art curator
- Since Netflix is so helpful, they recommended that I watch the 100 year show , another art docue ( 40 minutes)
- This prompted me to write another lesson plan
- And then my husband got home from work and asked me what I was doing
Calmly and full of confidence I responded I”m working on my in-service presentation, and it’s going great!!! Luckily he headed to the kitchen without asking further questions or to see any evidence of this said productive day that I was having.
I used to be super duper on top of things. Everything was always done early, and while I still am a stickler about meeting deadlines, procrastination has become a part of my process, a part that I’ve grown to expect and in many ways accept.
What changed me from an earlier finisher to a right up to the deadline procrastinator? Understanding the creative process, that’s what.
The second step in the creative process is incubation, this is a time where you brain is working on making connections and creating new combinations, it’s trying to come up with a solution to the given problem. Incubation takes time, and often the more time that it’s allowed the better results it produces.
Incubation looks a lot like procrastination. In fact, they can be the exact same thing, but when we replace the word procrastination with incubation, it changes our approach.
I used to be the earlier finisher, like it was done days before the deadline, Dustin Yellin, TED speaker, refers to this as precrastinator. On the opposite end of the spectrum are people that procrastinate so much, that they never get anything done, and then , there’s a sweet spot right in the middle, of people that procrastinate long enough to allow for more original ideas to form, but that still actually get things done. These people that are hanging out in the middle are called, “creative thinkers.” ( they can also be a challenge when it comes to teaching)
These people are ” quick to start, but slow to finish.” Dustin Yellin, and the key to their success… DEADLINES.
Our students tend to think that creativity can’t be rushed, that it’s all about freedom and doing whatever you want, whenever you want. But is that true, or was it born out of a misunderstanding of what creativity even is?
What does procrastination/ incubation look like in the classroom?
While the above information is interesting, you’re probably thinking, please don’t let me students ever read this article, then they’ll all be running around telling me that they’re incubating. ( Just like the day that I shared a scientific article with my students, teaching them about the importance of daydreaming)
First, let’s agree for a moment to replace the word procrastination with incubation and give our students the benefit of the doubt that they’re incubating.
Second, let’s talk about the step before incubation, and what helps verses what hinders the process. The first step of the creative process is preparation, that’s the time when you realize that there is a problem to solve or a question to answer. So if your students are drawing self portraits, they might ask, how do I draw a self portrait, or what features do I want to exaggerate to convey my personality through my self portrait? They should write down the questions and problem that they’re trying to solve, and make some notes about what they already know about the topic and what they still need to know. Maybe they know that they want to do the portrait in the style of Chuck Close, but they realize that they don’t actually know how he creates his grid system, so they have some research to do.
After preparation we fall into incubation ( procrastination) , in school, and often in life, we don’t leave time for this step, we want to jump right into having the answer or making the thing, but that doesn’t allow time for our brain to make interesting connections and develop an original idea.
As teachers, we need to design our lessons in a way that allows time for procrastination. So maybe the problem is presented before the students go to lunch, recess, or gym class. Maybe the problem is presented at the end of the day or the end of class, so that it can incubate overnight. Or maybe you slowly build up to it by dropping hints, or asking your students questions.
Incubation often speeds up with movement, like going for a walk, run, bike ride or swimming. It takes place while we’re sleeping or doing other things. Playing on their phone, staring into space, or talking to friends, isn’t helpful to the process. While in class my students are expected to be working on research, doing a mind dump in their sketchbook, filling out an idea generation chart, playing with experimentation cards, or working on the actual project. Incubation takes place while they are doing these things, and outside of class.
It can be tempting not to have strict deadlines in the art room, as often times it does feel cruel to say you have to have a creative idea by x date, but research and experience tells us, that deadlines matter. In my class , there are always deadlines, and they don’t move, but students also know that they’re allowed to re-due a project. This takes away some of the fear of failure, but means that they need to put something on the paper, they need to reflect on it, and they need to turn it in to get feedback. This helps to push students into the “sweet spot”, where they procrastinate , but actually get something done.
Reflection: We all procrastinate something, it might be cleaning, exercising, grading, grading, or grading. What causes you to procrastinate, and what do you do to make yourself push through and get it done?