Why President Lincoln Procrastinated on Finishing His Greatest Speech Ever

Procrastination isn’t a weakness of the lazy but rather a skill of the genius.

Wharton business school Professor Adam Grant believes procrastination is a powerful tool used by innovative minds. Grant explains in his book “Originals” that former President Lincoln wrote his closing paragraph for his famous Gettysburg Address the night before. Lincoln cut it close and finalized the speech the morning of. Lincoln’s secretary John Nicolay explained why Lincoln waited until the final moments:

“He probably followed his usual habit in such matters, using great deliberation in arranging his thoughts, and molding his phrases mentally, waiting to reduce them to writing until they had taken satisfactory form.”

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According to Grant, Lincoln procrastinated wisely in order to give himself more time for creative ideas to come up. Grant wrote in his book that in doing so, Lincoln was “making gradual progress by testing and refining different possibilities.”

Procrastination can be advantageous in certain situations. University of San Diego professor Frank Partnoy distinguishes two types of procrastination: active and passive. Active procrastination can be beneficial as it allows individuals to prioritize tasks whereas passive procrastination involves putting off a deadline simply because of fear or stubbornness.

Author John Perry describes the “art of procrastination” in alignment with the active category. Perry believes that a procrastinator’s greatest skill lies in his or her ability to finish tasks without any strict schedule. In addition, long periods of procrastination allows individuals to discern what tasks are truly important as some “disappear if given a chance.”

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