When I was a new pastor, I tried to finish my weekly sermon by Thursday. I took Friday as a day off, and the importance of not working on my off day had been impressed upon me with some rigor by professors and mentors, so I diligently worked Monday thru Thursday to complete the Sunday sermon.
It worked great. Except that the sermons weren’t very good.
I thought about this yesterday as I listened to the chapter in Adam Grant’s Originals called “Fools Rush In.” Grant makes the case that procrastinating can lead to better work. He uses the example of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream Speech” at the march on Washington, which he only began writing days before delivery and that he didn’t complete until that very morning.
I gave up on trying to finish my sermons on Thursdays, because I kept finding that ideas and insights about it had a stubborn habit of waiting to occur to me until Friday or Saturday. With some guilt, I started what has continued to be my practice: waiting until Saturday night to finish my sermons.
Not waiting until Saturday to work on them, mind. Procrastinating until Saturday night to put the sermon together is only effective for me if I’ve been diligent throughout the week taking it apart. I liken it to an assembly project. I need to work deliberately to take all the pieces out of the box and spread them out on a table. This is hours worth of reading and analysis and note-taking. By Saturday night I’m simply putting together what all the pieces I’ve found seem to want to be.
It’s less “productive” than finishing on Thursday, but the end product is always better.
There’s a critique of productivity in here, too. Grant uses the phrase “productive mediocrity” to describe habits of starting early, working efficiently, and always meeting deadlines, in order to get as much done as possible. He’s arguing that being less productive in the service of making better stuff is a worthwhile trade off.