There are plenty of places to go to get advice on overcoming procrastination, and that’s nice to have. We do need to get work finished. But I think we sometimes casually accept a rather oppressive standard for making things, or getting stuff done. That’s the metaphorical idea that if you start riding, and you fall off the horse, you need to get back on ASAP and start riding again.
And so there’s a value in that idea, specifically that it tries to get us not to give up easily, and further that it’s easier to start again or keep going on a thing or a task if you immediately try again. That’s probably true. But maybe unnecessarily demanding. We aren’t given much room for having missed targets, or just plain failing.
I’ll propose a preliminary action: give yourself a minute. It’s really easy to beat yourself up for failing, for missing, for not quite getting to the goal you set. It’s okay that you didn’t. You don’t have to feel bad about it, or try to push aside your emotions. Feel your feelings. Pause for a sec.
I think it makes it a bit easier to do the necessary thing and start again.
I read articles to procrastinate more than any other activity. It’s cheap, time-consuming, and allows me to justify it—with no actual verity—by telling myself it’s research of some kind. Just today a few things I read were
Whether the game “Chinese whispers,” as “telephone” is known in the U.K., is racist (people were mostly unsure, but it is)
The Wikipedia page for the Tom Servo character on MST3K
…and several other things.
It’s definitely a problem. But possibly a problem I can get a handle on by being more aware of the habit. Chipping away at procrastination is an ongoing practice of reminding my monkey mind trivia can wait for breaks.
What I haven’t done much, here, is talk about what I’m doing. I think—and feel, double emphasis there—that the thumbnail doodles at the top of many posts aren’t really an indicator of ongoing process tracking, so there should be some balance to the endless advice and prescriptive know-hows I seem to have in endless supply.
One of the things I’m working on—s l o w w w l y y—is a series of 11 small paintings I pledged to people over a year ago. Be fair, year-and-a-half.
It’s a bit strange to go back and forth from analog to digital. Some things are easier in physical media: texture, random surprises, depth, the subtle wonder of a unique object. Some things are harder: development time, corrections—oh for an ‘undo’ when I smear or put too much of something on a canvas—and precision.
Here’s hoping I won’t be too much longer finishing and can finally notch off this project and start the next.
It’s counterintuitive perhaps, but organizing is potentially both good and bad for creation. It depends how you approach it. A lot of clutter in your workspace is mentally taxing. You have to fight through the visual chaos to find things, you’re distracted by (metaphorically) shiny objects, and you bog down in the face of these things. I know this because I’m the king of clutter.
But organizing can be a distraction in itself. It’s an anal-retentive procrastinator’s dream. You tell yourself you need to get your studio or desk or files in shape so you can work distraction-free. But de-cluttering can take time, if things are a swirling soup of stuff. You can easily spend a day or more moving piles, scheduling things, sifting through neglected mail, reshelving supplies and books.
Most tasks are best handled in chunks. And nothing starts your day in triumph like getting a couple of creative things happening before you do anything else. The two practices can balance each other very well, as long as you keep them to discrete slices of time, say, 30 minutes to an hour. A little right brain, a little left. It’s not intensity that gets you a hundred pages written or a big canvas filled, it’s the day-to-day, bit-by-bit daily habit over time.
What if I used a song title as the title of every blog post? Probably just confuse everyone, actually.
Having given us all an out for taking a break from our creative stuff yesterday, I have to pull it back in again. It’s time to get back to the habit of doing. It’s way to easy to keep indulging monkey mind and let it go another day, which turns into three, a week, a year.
It’s true, some geniuses blast out a veritable torrent of work all at once, having done nothing for weeks or months. But I’m no genius. You may be, but then, if so, why are you paying attention to me at all? You just need to listen to your inner muse and let your ideas flow into reality to the blueprint of your vision. Most of us, though, are fumbling a bit and trusting that eventually the thing will have a distinct shape.
Starting up, keeping the habit, working steadily toward a finished piece is going to get things done, which is the real goal. Judgment about its worth, evaluating its place in the world—that all should come from others and after something is finished.
For now, you put aside fear for an hour or three and get the mechanism of daily practice (or near as damn it) back on track.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.