You know that saying – why put off until tomorrow what you can do today? Well, some famous people throughout history didn’t sometimes couldn’t get it together live by that motto. We’re talking big names that you’d easily recognize who were known procrastinators. Don’t feel so bad next time you’re cramming to meet a deadline or showing up embarrassingly late to a party. Even the best and brightest have been there.

Come along as we dish on the juicy details of famous figures who just couldn’t get it together sometimes. From brilliant scientists to beloved authors, you’ll be surprised by this list of icons who are totally guilty of procrastinating. Let’s take a fun look at the greats who simply couldn’t resist putting things off until tomorrow.

Procrastination: A Common Struggle

Procrastination A Common Struggle
Procrastination A Common Struggle

Can’t Beat the Clock. Many famous and successful people have struggled with procrastination at some point. Walt Disney, for example, missed deadlines and let projects drag on. Bill Gates was notorious for putting things off until the last minute. Procrastination is very human.

Late Bloomers. Some prolific creatives were late bloomers who didn’t produce their best work until later in life. Julia Child didn’t learn to cook until she was almost 40 and didn’t publish her first cookbook until age 49. Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing the Little House book series at age 65. For these late bloomers, procrastination early on may have allowed their talent to simmer before blossoming.

Perfectionism Paralysis. The desire to achieve an unrealistic standard of perfection can lead to procrastination. Margaret Mitchell took 10 years to write Gone with the Wind. She struggled with the enormity of readers’ expectations after the success of her first novel. The pressure of impossibly high standards caused Mitchell’s procrastination and she wrote slowly in fits and starts.

Many struggle with procrastination due to a mix of reasons, both intentional and unintentional. However, success often comes to those able to overcome their tendencies to delay, as demonstrated by famous procrastinators who were ultimately able to achieve greatness. With work and persistence, anyone can strengthen their self-discipline and beat the habit of putting things off until tomorrow.

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Famous Procrastinators from History

Famous Procrastinators from History
Famous Procrastinators from History

Famous individuals like Frank Lloyd Wright, Abraham Lincoln, and Leonardo Da Vinci who were known for putting things off. Various reasons contributes procrastination such as perfectionism and a desire for careful decision-making, and suggests that many of these individuals achieved greatness despite the delays. Though procrastination can sometimes allow talents to simmer before blossoming, as seen in late bloomers like Julia Child and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Ultimately, while procrastination is human, success often comes to those who can overcome it and harness their self-discipline

1. Frank Lloyd Wright: Great Architect, Even Better Procrastinator

Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the most renowned architects of the 20th century, but that didn’t stop him from being an epic procrastinator. Wright was notorious for delaying projects for years or even decades. His magnum opus, Fallingwater, was designed in 1935 but construction didn’t start until 1937 due to Wright’s delays.

The owner, Edgar Kaufmann Sr., was extremely patient but even he had his limits. He drove out to Wright’s studio and demanded to see the final plans. Wright insisted they weren’t ready to view. Kaufmann threatened to call off the project if he couldn’t see them immediately. Wright’s apprentices scrambled to finish a rough design, which Kaufmann approved on the spot. Construction began shortly after, but the final plans still took months to complete.

Wright’s habit of delay caused trouble on many projects. The Guggenheim Museum in New York City took 16 years to design and build, in large part due to Wright’s procrastination and perfectionism. He went through multiple concepts and struggled to settle on a final design. The museum’s benefactor Solomon Guggenheim wrote many angry letters to Wright demanding progress, to little effect. The museum finally opened in 1959, six months after Guggenheim’s death.

Some historians believe Wright’s tendency to postpone was a deliberate strategy to retain control and get his way. Others think he was simply a “big picture” visionary who struggled with practical details. Whatever the reason, Wright’s brilliance as an architect allowed him to get away with behavior that would doom most professionals. His works became masterpieces, well worth the wait, achieving immortality through architecture.

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2. Abraham Lincoln: The Great Emancipator Who Couldn’t Meet Deadlines

Abraham Lincoln is renowned for abolishing slavery in America, but he was also notorious for being late. Whether for meetings, court dates or deadlines, Lincoln frequently arrived after the scheduled time. His closest friends even gave him the nickname “Old Slow Coach” for his sluggish ways.

Always Running Behind. As a lawyer, Lincoln was often reprimanded by judges for missing deadlines to file legal briefs. He even missed the start of his own wedding in 1842 after struggling to find a minister. Lincoln’s tardiness was due in part to his desire to consider decisions carefully and avoid hasty judgments. But his timekeeping skills left much to be desired.

Procrastination and Perfectionism. Lincoln was prone to procrastination and often waited until the last minute to begin tasks. However, when he did get started, his perfectionism took over. He would work slowly and deliberately, revising and editing extensively to get things just right. This combination resulted in Lincoln frequently missing deadlines and keeping others waiting.

Making Up For Lost Time. To Lincoln’s credit, he did work hard to make up for lost time. He was known for staying up late into the night to finish overdue work or prepare for trials the next day. And though perpetually behind schedule, Lincoln never failed to show up when it really mattered. His momentous achievements as president, including issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and delivering the Gettysburg Address, demonstrated that while Lincoln’s sense of time may have been lacking, his leadership and vision were not.

Lincoln’s struggle with deadlines and tardiness reveals a more human side of the legendary leader. Despite his imperfections, Lincoln persevered in pursuing what was most important to him: justice, equality, and the greater good of the nation. For that, history has certainly forgiven him for his habit of being fashionably late.

3. Leonardo Da Vinci: Brilliant Artist, Master Procrastinator

Leonardo da Vinci was a renowned polymath, making groundbreaking contributions to art, science, and invention during the Renaissance. However, the prolific genius was also a notorious procrastinator. Da Vinci was easily distracted by new ideas and prone to tinkering endlessly without finishing projects.

The Perfectionist. Da Vinci set impossibly high standards for his work, always striving to achieve an idealized vision in his mind. This quest for perfection often caused him to doubt his abilities and endlessly revise his designs. For example, Da Vinci spent over 10 years working and reworking The Virgin and Child with St Anne, struggling to achieve a harmonious composition.

Easily Distracted. Da Vinci’s restless, curious mind was constantly flooded with new ideas, making it hard to focus on any single endeavor. He would pause work on one invention or artwork to sketch concepts for others, filling over 6,000 pages of notebooks with his observations, experiments, and musings. This tendency to follow his inspiration from one subject to the next contributed to many unfinished creations.

Trouble Letting Go. Once Da Vinci became invested in a project, whether an elaborate mural or a complex mechanical device, he had trouble delegating or relinquishing control. He insisted on overseeing every aspect of a work’s creation, unwilling to release his “children” out into the world until they met his high standards. The Mona Lisa, for example, took Da Vinci over a decade to complete as he continued tweaking details and was reluctant to part with it.

While Da Vinci’s tendency to procrastinate and leave works unfinished frustrated his patrons, his relentless experimentation and willingness to follow his curiosity also fueled his genius. His prolific notebooks and unfinished sketches gave others a glimpse into his brilliant but wandering mind. Like any habitual procrastinator, Da Vinci achieved a delicate balance between perfectionism and productivity that allowed his unique talents to shine through.

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4. Bill Clinton: Late Night Cram Sessions as President

Bill Clinton was well known for his tendency to procrastinate. Even after becoming President, Clinton had a habit of staying up late cramming for meetings and events. His staffers would often find Clinton reading briefing memos and memos until the early hours of the morning to prepare for the next day.

Former US President Bill Clinton was previously characterized by Time magazine as a “chronic procrastinator” who transformed speechwriting sessions into “harrowing last-minute cut-and-paste sessions.”

Health Care Reform. When tasked with reforming health care in 1993, Clinton procrastinated for months. He delayed appointing a health care reform task force and dragged his feet in presenting a plan to Congress. His procrastination and disorganization contributed to the failure of his health care reform efforts.

Budget Delays. Clinton also had a habit of delaying work on the federal budget. In 1995, Clinton failed to submit his budget proposal to Congress on time, leading to criticisms of his leadership. His budget was submitted two months late, causing headaches for members of Congress trying to review and approve it.

Last Minute Speech Writing. Even Clinton’s speeches were often left to the last minute. His speechwriters complained of all-nighters trying to draft speeches because Clinton delayed reviewing and revising them. In 1999, Clinton was still editing his State of the Union speech in the limo on the way to deliver it to Congress.

While Clinton was able to overcome his procrastination at times through late nights and cramming, his tendency to delay important work caused struggles. His health care reform failure and budget delays, in particular, highlighted how procrastination could undermine his policy goals and political effectiveness. Although a famously charismatic leader, Clinton’s habit of procrastination contributed to perceptions at times of disorganization and ineffectiveness. His presidency serves as a lesson in how leaders can work to overcome the tendency to delay and put off important priorities and decisions.

5. Victor Hugo: Les Misérables Author Who Needed Deadlines to Write

Victor Hugo, the famous French author of Les Misérables, was known for his procrastination and needed strict deadlines to get any writing done. His publisher imposed deadlines to ensure the prolific author actually finished his works.

Hugo would lock himself in his study for days on end to meet publishing deadlines, not emerging until he had completed the required pages. His valet would deliver food to his door, but Hugo often forgot to eat, so focused was he on his writing.

Once immersed in a project, Hugo wrote with passionate intensity. But starting was the hard part. He was easily distracted and put off writing for as long as possible. Without a deadline staring him in the face, Hugo indulged in other pursuits like drawing, entertaining guests, or rearranging his lavish home.

To motivate himself, Hugo would make dramatic statements about how many pages he would complete by a certain date. He knew these public proclamations would hold him accountable and force him to overcome his tendency to procrastinate. His valet was instructed to not let him out of his study until he had achieved his daily page count goals.

Hugo’s procrastination caused him much anxiety over the years. He lamented the time he wasted that could have been better spent writing. Yet he continued to delay starting new works as long as possible. His need for deadlines and bursts of intensive writing were simply part of his creative process.

Victor Hugo’s struggles with procrastination and dependency on deadlines show that even the most prolific creators can benefit from imposed structure and accountability. For Hugo, the angst of impending deadlines was what ultimately spurred him into action to create his timeless works of literature. His valiant efforts to overcome his procrastinating tendencies allowed Hugo to achieve a lifetime of creative accomplishments.

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6. Margaret Atwood: Booker Prize Winner Who Can’t Meet Deadlines

Margaret Atwood, the acclaimed Canadian author of The Handmaid’s Tale and other numerous award- winning works, has struggled throughout her career with meeting deadlines for her books. Despite her prolific output and immense popularity, Atwood has a reputation for turning in her novels late, frustrating her publishers to no end.

Atwood has acknowledged that she tends to procrastinate and get distracted when working on a book, taking breaks to travel, go for walks, and spend time with friends and family. She admits that putting off writing is “psychologically easier” for her than sitting down and actually working, especially in the early stages of a project. Atwood has a perfectionist streak that causes her to nitpick over every detail, which also contributes to her missing deadlines.

However, once Atwood is fully immersed in writing a novel, she enters what she calls a “fugue state” where she writes for hours on end with great focus and productivity. Atwood has described this intense writing period as a form of “hyperattention” where she becomes completely absorbed in the book and the lives of her characters. But getting to that point often takes Atwood longer than planned.

Despite her struggles with deadlines, Atwood has managed to produce an impressive body of work that has earned her critical acclaim, bestselling status, and numerous major awards including the Booker Prize, the Governor General’s Award, and the PEN/Pinter Prize. Atwood’s novels, poems, and essays tackle complex social and political issues with insight, humor, and a sharp perspective that has captivated readers worldwide. Atwood’s tardiness may cause stress for her publishers, but her masterful writing more than makes up for any delays.

7. Douglas Adams: Deadlines Only Inspired More Procrastination

Much like Atwood, Douglas Adams was known for missing deadlines during his writing career. Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, had a reputation for handing in his work late to the frustration of his publishers.

Adams openly admitted that he struggled with procrastination and described deadlines as his “greatest inspiration.” However, for Adams deadlines seemed to inspire more procrastination rather than actual writing. He would put off working on his books for as long as possible, only kicking into high gear when a deadline was looming.

Even then, Adams would write at a breakneck pace, often finishing a book just in the nick of time. This last-minute rush allowed Adams to produce some of his most creative work but also caused him stress and exhaustion. His procrastination was so ingrained that Adams claimed setting an earlier deadline would actually make him put the work off for longer.

Despite the headaches his tardiness caused, Adams’s witty and insightful writing for The Hitchhiker’s Guide series has earned him a devoted following of fans around the world. The humour and creativity in Adams’s writing shines through even as he struggled to meet publishing schedules. His wit and unique perspective on life continue to delight readers decades after his untimely death in 2001.

Adams’s procrastination may have caused him difficulties during his life, but the humorous and philosophical stories he managed to create during his bursts of intense writing have brought joy to millions of readers. His books show that true creative genius can find a way to express itself – even under the pressures of impending deadlines.

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8. John Adams – Put Off Writing the Declaration of Independence

John Adams, the second president of the United States, was one of the key founders and leaders during the American Revolution. However, even he struggled with procrastination at times.

In 1778, Adams was tasked by the Continental Congress with writing a formal declaration to explain and justify the colonies’ break from British rule. Yet Adams put off actually writing the document for weeks, spending his time on other matters.

When Congress grew impatient and nominated Thomas Jefferson to draft the declaration instead, Adams realized he needed to act. He worked with Jefferson to refine the document, providing key suggestions that shaped the final version we know today.

Once the Declaration of Independence was published on July 4, 1776, Adams considered it the most important document of his life. However, he admitted that he had unnecessarily delayed writing it due to “laziness and procrastination.”

The delay shows that even accomplished and driven individuals can struggle with putting things off. But it also demonstrates that true motivation and the right inspiration can help overcome procrastination. Once engaged with the task, Adams helped craft one of the most important and inspiring political documents in history.

The Declaration of Independence stands as a timeless statement of principles of liberty, equality and unalienable rights. Its words continue to inspire people around the world, demonstrating that even tasks we initially put off can ultimately produce work of great significance.

These examples show that procrastination has been a companion to many, regardless of their eventual achievements.

Final Thought

While procrastination is common, the stories of famous figures like Douglas Adams and John Adams show that true talent and motivation can help one overcome delays to produce great work. As these examples demonstrate:

Productivity often comes in bursts for creative people. When inspiration strikes and deadlines loom, those with genius can channel their abilities into amazing output. However, the road to get there may involve initial delays and detours.

What matters most is the work that ultimately results. The Declaration of Independence stands the test of time not because of how quickly or easily it was written, but because of the profound truths and vision it contained.

So for those struggling with procrastination now, take heart. Focus on nurturing your talents and ideas. When you do finally engage with your work, approach it with passion and a desire to make a difference. True creative genius has a way of rising to the surface, and of transforming even belated efforts into things of great significance.


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