Constructive Procrastination

2013

In line with this idea of embracing failure as an essential practice to facilitate learning in my teaching practice I will briefly share a critical incident in how I support learning. In my time teaching at Vega school (2011-2013) there was a student who, evidenced through discussions with other lecturers, observation and previous non-submissions, did very little work. From previous submissions I knew that this student was very talented and always had an interesting approach to creating work. Not wanting to make him more anxious about the situation and genuinely curious, in an individual consultation I asked him: what is it that you do when you don’t do your work? He answered that he procrastinates. I then asked him to start collecting his procrastinations and that I would like a list of them for the next class. He became a procrastination collector. With his list of procrastination as inspiration, he created a constructive procrastination pencil set. On each pencil was engraved a procrastination. He won a D&AD award for this and I won a mentoring award. Later, he used this piece of work as his portfolio and got the copywriter job that he wanted.

I often tell this story to the students and we have a discussion, reflecting on failure and the creative process: the idea of productive procrastination. The approach that I adopted here was to use humour to ensure respect for the individual learner, whilst tackling a barrier to his learning. In this way, the student started looking at his procrastinations in a different light: as material with which to make work and he started to ‘work’ except, as he said to me, it didn’t feel like work. Thus, arguably, this process cultivated intrinsic motivation, curiosity and genuine interest in the development of his own creative practice. For me, this was a turning point for me in my teaching: it taught me that a playful approach combined with creative practice and critical thinking, anything, even procrastination and failure, could be turned into material for art.