Photo by Julian Fong.
If it weren’t for procrastination, we’d all be superheroes.
When you think of the creativity, talent and energy in every human being, and what we achieve on the occasions when we’re working at full stretch, it’s almost scary to consider what we could do if we didn’t keep shying away from doing our great work.
I’ve done my fair share of procrastination, and I’ve lost count of the number of times the issue has come up with coaching clients. Reflecting on these pooled experiences, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three big reasons that are responsible for most of the procrastination out there.
So here they are and what to do about them. I should warn you that once you’ve read them, the cat will be out of the bag – so if you want to keep hold of your excuses for procrastinating, don’t read the rest of this article! 😉
1. You Don’t Know What to Do
There’s a world of possibilities out there. So many in fact, that you’re spoilt for choice. With so many things you could do, it’s hard to narrow the field down to one or two things you’re going to commit to.
And without a sense of purpose, it’s hard to summon up the energy to get anything much done. Sure, you could earn some money, get a job, maybe even make something you’re pleased with, but ultimately what’s the point? Where’s it all leading?
I was stuck here for years. I wandered from one interest, project and even profession to another, never satisfied that I’d found ‘the one’ I was ready to pursue wholeheartedly. Looking around at friends and colleagues who were working flat out on their career or their business, I scratched my head and wondered where they got their focus from.
It was only gradually that I started to fit my various interests and enthusiasms together, into a vision of a business – helping creative people make their dreams a reality – that really inspired me.
It took me a while to realise I was never going to find a profession that was the right fit for me, so that I’d have to create my own job description. But as I said last week, it turned out that (nearly) all of my weird, wonderful and apparently disconnected interests had a role to play in the business I created.
Takeaway: let your curiosity be your guide. Follow up on all your little interests and hunches, however impractical they may seem. Many of them will lead nowhere, but every so often you’ll find curiosity igniting into enthusiasm. Do this often enough, and the enthusiasm will start to pick up an unstoppable momentum …
And get into the habit of finishing things. You don’t have to finish every single project you start, but maybe one in three or four, push yourself to see it through to completion, just to show yourself you can do it.
2. You Don’t Know How to Do It
It’s great to have a vision, but what if you don’t know how to make it happen?
I’m not even talking about looking at a challenge and thinking it’s too difficult. I mean what do you do if you’ve got absolutely no idea how to even start?
In my case, curiosity came to the rescue, eventually. I had the core of my business worked out – providing coaching and training to creative-minded clients – but I realised I’d need to know a lot more about business, marketing and the creative industries if I wanted to make a success of it.
So I did a lot of sniffing around – reading books, websites, articles. As far as I could tell, there was no-one doing exactly what I wanted to do, so I looked for people doing things ‘next door’ to me. I read John Howkins’ book The Creative Economy, which explained why creativity is now critical to economic survival. Then I came across a Master’s program in creative business and promptly signed myself up.
The Master’s led me to Seth Godin’s ebook on using blogging to find an audience and customers. Then Dave Taylor’s book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Growing Your Business with Google. I started to grasp the opportunity in front of me, and found myself reading more and more, compulsively.
I discovered the world of blogging, devouring the archives of Problogger and subscribing to all kinds of feeds. I felt I was getting close when I came across Steve Pavlina’s blog about ‘personal development for smart people’. I could see myself writing a blog about personal development for creative people…
Finally I took the plunge and got started, installing a blog on my website, writing posts and seeing what kind of response I got. It was hit-and-miss for a long time, but by then I was absorbed – even obsessed – in the learning process, trying different approaches, reading advice from different teachers, signing up for courses.
By this stage, the problem wasn’t procrastination – it was finding enough hours in the day to fit everything in and get everything done.
Takeaway: Keep following your curiosity, but narrow your focus to people who have done something similar to your dream. Look at how they did it, to see which parts you can emulate. Pay particular attention to teachers who can show you how it’s done.
Maybe no-one has done exactly what you’re setting out to do – but if you look in different areas, you can find examples in fields ‘next door’ to yours. It then becomes a creative challenge to fit the different pieces together into a new pattern.
And whatever you do, do something. Your first attempts may not be great, but they’ll be infinitely better than doing nothing. And when you see how they turn out, and start getting feedback, you’ll be on a learning curve to improving them.
Now you know what you want to do, and how to do it.
So why aren’t you getting on with it?
Why are you still faffing around in your inbox, or Facebook, or surfing the web, or making another coffee, or goofing around with friends, or reorganising your bookshelves – or anything else but getting on with your real work?
I like Steven Pressfield‘s explanation: Resistance. An invisible, internal force that arises whenever we set ourselves a challenge that will take us outside our comfort zone. Resistance is what separates the amateur from the professional, since the former gives in and puts his dreams on hold; whereas the latter persists in spite of the fear, and pushes through to success.
Resistance is what stops you becoming a superhero.
Last year I wrote a piece about 7 Ways to Smash Procrastination that gives you a variety of ways through Resistance. I’d like to add one more here:
Enthusiasm melts Resistance.
When you’re in touch with your enthusiasm, Resistance dissolves, and all the frozen energy is released, for you to channel towards your goal.
Takeaway: Next time you find yourself procrastinating when you know what to do and how to do it, stop and look Resistance in the face. Notice how it affects you – how it makes you feel, what it makes you do. Get to know your enemy.
Then ask yourself whether getting stuck into your creative challenge is really as difficult and terrible as Resistance makes out. Remind yourself of the good times, when you were absorbed in the Joy of Work and didn’t want to stop. Don’t try to force it – wait until you feel the enthusiasm well up, and Resistance starting to melt…
Over to You?
Which of these reasons for procrastination has been the most difficult for you to overcome?
How have you overcome them?
Are there any other reasons (and solutions) you’d add to the list?
About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a Coach for Artists, Creatives and Entrepreneurs. For a free 26-week guide to success as a creative professional, sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder.