A lot of productivity advice tells us that we need to stop procrastinating, beat Resistance, and get things done.
The Americans like to talk about ‘shipping’, meaning finished and sent out for delivery. This emphasis on getting things done and out to market is part of their extraordinary entrepreneurial culture. Famously, Guy Kawasaki even said ‘It’s OK to ship crap’ as long as you keep innovating and fixing the problems with the first version of your product.
At the opposite end of the spectrum to ‘shipping crap’, we find the perfectionists. These are the people who say it’s important to slow down, to take your time and do the best job you can. “If a job’s worth doing,” they say, “It’s worth doing well.”
So who is right?
It partly depends on your personality. You probably already know if you have more difficulty with perfectionism or impatience:
If you’re a perfectionist you have trouble letting something go and getting it out the door. So it can make sense to focus on pushing harder, by ‘shipping’ something that is good enough for now.
If you’re impatient and slapdash, you could do with slowing down and taking more care, and maybe getting some good feedback before you release your latest work.
But it’s not all about you. Sometimes it’s more about the work. Every creative project has a rhythm and momentum of its own.
Then I realised the article had struck a chord with my readers and I turned it into a book. I challenged myself to keep every chapter short, to get to the point, to give reader an insight and stand back and see what they did with it, and not over-explain or give them every little step.
I then published it as an ebook and shared it quickly. Which meant I got it into readers’ hands and they got the benefit as soon as possible.
My poetry collection is another matter. Some of the poems are over a decade old. None of them were written in a single draft, or even less than five drafts. Over the years I keep revisiting the poems, reading and re-reading them, spotting things I missed the first time, things that don’t quite work, things that could be better.
It’s not about perfectionism in the negative sense. It’s about taking the time to really listen to the poems, really look at them, and see if I can bring them into the light a little more.
So each of these books has it’s own speed and momentum that’s independent of me. It would be disastrous if I tried to rush the poetry, and pointless to spend years revising the 21 Insights book.
I come across this a lot with coaching clients. Sometimes they’re procrastinating and need encouragement and deadlines to get down to work. Other times, they’re in too much of a rush. They’re trying to push the work or force it to completion, when they really need to slow down and take their time.
So if they’re struggling to find the right approach, I tell them: every creative project is a revolving door.
I’m thinking about those big glass revolving doors you find at the entrance to big important glass-fronted buildings.
If you’re in a hurry, maybe because you’re late for a meeting, and you try to rush inside by pushing the door, what happens? The door grinds to a halt and an alarm starts beeping and someone comes out from behind the desk to give you a telling off. You’ve made yourself later than you needed to be.
Or maybe you’re taking your time, dawdling along, looking at your phone or thinking of something else. What happens then? The door comes up behind you and gives you a nudge. You’d better start moving!
So next time you’re getting frustrated by a project that feels like it isn’t happening fast enough, stop and take a good look at the work.
Will pushing harder really get it done faster? Or is it time to accept that this is a slower-moving project?
Could it benefit from taking more time, maybe moving a deadline back? Or getting feedback and input from a truster colleague before you move forward again?
Or if you think you have all the time in the world to complete your project… have a look at the calendar, and ask yourself if that’s really the case.
Is it time to pick up the pace and inject some urgency into your process?
Whichever it turns out to be, your work will become easier and more rewarding when you adjust the pace of your work to the speed of your project’s invisible revolving door.
You can hear an audio version of this article in this episode of The 21st Century Creative podcast, starting at 3’03”.