quick quiz:

If you’re watching NCIS in the middle of the day, are you…

  1. procrastinating?
  2. incubating?
  3. probably overeating?

This is one of those story problems that is a trick, because there’s not enough information in the story to determine the right answer.  What is the difference between incubating and procrastinating?

All creativity requires incubation time.  Procrastination is just incubation – labeled.  Be kind and open minded.  Start by lowering your expectations.  Have a cup of tea; swing on a swing; dance a jig.  Do what it takes to help yourself create again.  Most of us are willing to beat ourselves up for not meeting our goals, but are you willing to go out and have fun?

Paint a picture? Make cookies?  Ride a bike? Take a shower? If you knew it would help you meet your goals faster would you be willing to relax and have some fun?

How can you feel the difference?  Incubation should feel positive, lively.  While you figure out your central problem, you can dive in to soupmaking or walking.  It’s not “powering down.”  When you’re procrastinating, you’re likely judging your lack of activity.  You might seek negative pleasure, like overeating, overthinking or overdrinking.  It feels leaden, even if it has an element of self-indulgence or pleasure.  Quit holding yourself to a productivity standard and allow yourself to procrastubate.

Google and 3M – two of the most innovative companies  – both encourage their employees to take frequent breaks.  They can go for walks or play ping pong.  On the Google campus they can even pick up dry cleaning or get their hair cut.  Both companies also encourage their employees to allot 15% of their time to do anything they want.  The ideas for Google Mail and Adsense are both traced back to that free time.


As you keep your left brain busy, showering or walking or chopping vegetables, your right brain zooms in and zooms out.  The right brain can see the whole.  It makes associations.  It blends the problem you’re facing, like how to end a story or how to promote a product launch, with numerous solutions you’ve used in the past for a broad range of issues.  “Put a bandage on it,” might float to the top, or a car crash visual might flash across your brain.  Maybe you’ll remember a childhood story.  Your solution for how to end your story or how to promote your upcoming premiere event   could be a novel combination of these seemingly random thoughts.  All this creativity happens while, you’re “focused” on your other activities, riding a bike or talking to your mom.