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Why Good Leaders Procrastinate (The Zeigarnik Effect)

The Architect September 21, 2016 Leadership Blog
Why Good Leaders Procrastinate (The Zeigarnik Effect)

“You call it procrastinating. I call it thinking.” – Aaron Sorkin

Psychologist Adam Grant took to TED radio hour to tell us why we should slow down.

Encouraging people to procrastinate boosts creativity, as long as they don’t wait too long. Adam's research showed that there’s a perfect balance between finishing a task quickly and leaving it to the last minute to give time to challenge your original ideas.


If you finish something, and check it off your list, it’s erased from your mind.

Incomplete tasks have to stay active in your short-term memory so we can pick up where we left off.

Putting something off when you procrastinate isn’t erasing it from your mind.  It stays active in the back of your mind, giving you time to come back to it over and over. If you rush in and finish the task for the sake of ticking a box on a checklist, your mind will rarely come back to the problem.

REMEMBER VUJA DE - when you look at something you’ve seen a hundred times before and suddenly see it with new eyes.

Adam Grant TED Radio Hour

So should leaders be fast or slow?

The answer is neither.

'Slow leadership' doesn't answer the fact that markets move at 100 miles an hour. But 'rush' and 'busyness' stops people thinking properly.

Johnnie Moore coined the term 'unhurried leadership', which means being totally present in the moment and focusing on the big issue in front of you. Instead of trying to do more, it's about paring down to the essence of what needs doing, assessing whether whatever's demanding your attention next fits with the critical path.

That means leaders have to be brave enough to say 'No, I won't take that meeting' or 'No, I won't do that' to the boss and focus on real productivity, not rapid-fire box-ticking.

- Phil

Phil Dourado

Phil Dourado is The Leadership Hub founder. He's the author of two leadership books. Phil and his team run an online leadership community of practice for one of the world's largest companies.