"Time is at once the most valuable and the most perishable of all our possessions" - John Randolph
Until someone invents a time machine, procrastination will continue to be the arch nemesis of productivity. We’ve all been there right? …We have this amazingly, Earth shattering, take-over-the-world kind of idea for a work of art, or project, or a blog we have to write, but for some reason it just keeps getting put off and eventually never gets done. As an artist, I deal with this all of the time. Sometimes I have a whole day free and completely set aside, and I think I’ll get a ton of painting done, but all too often I’ll get to the end of my day only to find that I haven’t even picked up a paintbrush. It’s not that I don’t want to do it, because trust me I absolutely do, it’s just that something is preventing me from getting started. If you’ve experienced this (and most people have), then you’ll know just how frustrating it can be.
…Before we get into that, what exactly is procrastination, and why does it have such a commanding power over us? Procrastination rears it’s ugly head in many different forms… Sometimes we simply get distracted by our phones, emails, Facebook, TV, …anything but what we were originally planning on. This is procrastination. Sometimes we may feel that we don’t have enough time to finish something, so we decide to just wait until we can set aside a longer period of time. This is procrastination. Or maybe we may feel like we are lacking in motivation, and decide to simply wait until some grand moment of inspiration to come along. This too, is a form of procrastination.
Is it really that we get all amped up and focused, our minds set and ready, and then out of nowhere here comes smug ‘ol Procrastination, and SMACK! Completely out of our control, instantly we’d rather do anything accept the very thing we intended to do in the first place, and there’s nothing that we can do about it?
While it does seem like this most of the time, if we just take the time to dig a little further, to the very roots of procrastination, what you will find might be a bit of a surprise… Hidden in the very depths of procrastination itself lies a massive, bubbling cesspool of Fear. Yep, you heard right; big fat stinking FEAR. Our fear of rejection; fear of not living up to expectations, whether our own ridiculously high standards of perfection, or someone else’s, all boils down to our innate ability to subconsciously fester that very Fear into one of the most self deceiving, and dangerously contagious bio-chemical weapons known to Man. This Fear stops us from doing what we truly want to do, because distracting ourselves and making excuses is a lot easier than facing those fears head on. We’ll bold face lie, and tell ourselves all sorts of devilishly-ingenious excuses like: ”I’ll just start when I have more time to finish,” just so we don’t have to work on what is most important to us.
For starters, by acknowledging the fear and ignoring it, then simply, “Taking Action,” …ANY action. The antithesis to fear and procrastination is Action. The simple act of ‘doing’ is the very opposite of fear. So in order for one to overcome procrastination, one simply has to take action, and just DO! Do anything, even if it’s just painting an unused under-painting on your blank canvas, whatever, just begin. Obviously that’s easier said than done, but what I try to do for my own artwork when I feel like I’m procrastinating, is to just start. I’ll take my blank canvas and literally start painting it any color of my choice. For the most part, this step is an unnecessary artistic-placebo in a way, since it’s usually completely covered up by the end, but I’ll sometimes also use this as a technique to add some depth to my paintings with complimenting colors and layers. Sometimes though, just by the simple act of painting that first coat, regardless of what color it is, I have already taken the first step towards overcoming my procrastination. After all, it’s a lot harder to quit something once I’ve already started. Which brings me to my next point of mastering the art of procrastination.
I’m the worst at using this particular excuse: “I’ll just start when I have more time…” I can’t stand not finishing something once I’ve started. Since creating a painting takes a while, it is really easy for me not to start unless I have an entire day free to give, so as a result paintings tend to get put off for weeks or even months sometimes before I return to an idea. The truth is we will never just ‘have,’ or ‘find’ time. If you want time, you have to take it; …NOW. Time is there for us to do our bidding, every second of every day. What we do with it is our choice. So even if you find yourself with only 20 minutes before you have to leave for a meeting or whatever, don’t wait to start something until you have time to finish… Try not to think about the time you are lacking. Instead, think about all that you could do in 20 minutes. Even if all you get done in those 20 minutes is paint a blank canvas red, or just sketch an idea for your next painting, then that’s how it has to be, Congratulations, you’ve taken your first step towards conquering your fears, and completing your next big artwork, AND all on your own terms.
The point is you just have to be honest with yourself, and strict with your time. Whatever your schedule is, we all have areas where we can shave just a little time here and there. I sometimes set my alarm a half hour earlier to get a jumpstart on my writing. Or if I know I have 5 hours before I have to be somewhere, I will usually set 30 minutes or so to reading, 2 hours for writing, and the rest on painting.
The truth is that we will go out of our way to work on everything except the very thing that we are needing or wanting to… so we have to use this to our advantage somehow. According to one writer, the trick is to prioritize our procrastinations. I found his concept of “Structured Procrastination” pretty interesting. He says:
"The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important…"
If you want to hear more about John Perry’s “Structured Procrastination" technique, you can check out his blog here. If you’re having a hard time with procrastination yourself, (and who isn’t right?) …then hopefully some of the ideas in this blog were able to be helpful.
So how do you handle your procrastination? Do you have any helpful tricks you use to get back to work after you find yourself procrastinating? Feel free to join in the discussion!
…Looking forward to next time, until then I hope you have a great day, and as always,
It’s 2014 and the future we dreamed of as children is finally on its way! For myself as an 80’s baby, 2014 is a time to rejoice. Looking back, I can remember when I was around the age of 13, having to walk almost 5 miles to the closest strip mall where the nearest comic book store was, just to find my inspiration. I would save my money all week from mowing lawns with my first business in one of the neighborhoods I grew up in.
I’d spend hours in there scouring through every comic that caught my attention. If I felt any sort of a connection to the style of art on a cover, then I would crack it open and study its pages, and if I found a good amount of pictures in there that I wanted to draw, (which was only certain realistic styles and body positions because back then I was working on creating my own team of characters just like The X-Men, only my team could kick their butts!) then I would buy it. The literary content was secondary…
As a child, when flying cars and touch screens were only a dream in my imagination, and in the movies, I was a sci-fi junkie; and still am thank you. But today, all around us that far fetched science-fiction we grew up with is actually starting to become a reality. We now have working jet-packs, flying cars, touch-screens, 3D printers, cell phones, tablets and even robots… The future is on its way. It’s slightly different from the one painted in Back to the future that I was looking forward to ( no hover boards yet, unfortunately,) but we are actually getting those cool “Back to the Future power laces" soon in 2015 according to Nike, so hey, there’s still some hope…
I can remember everyone being so excited about the ‘Paint’ program on those now ancient computers back in school and at home. I was actually disappointed. Even then in elementary school, I knew I could draw better on my own and wanted a way to draw directly on the screen. Thanks to Star Trek, I used to dream of a touchscreen and stylus… and now, thanks to innovators like Apple they are a reality. But for me I think the biggest technology so far that I am thankful to have in this future we are living in now, is the internet. Today we can “Google" literally anything and get amazing information and images instantly. When I was a kid, to get any good information or inspirational pictures, the closest thing I had was my parent’s Encyclopedia Brittanica set, Saturday morning cartoons, or my personal, (and totally awesome) Sci-fi filled, VHS library. If it wasn’t for these outlets I don’t know what I would have done. There was no internet as we see it today. Now, Universities such as MIT have there entire libraries online for anyone to view: https://libraries.mit.edu.
There is absolutely no reason for anyone not to learn how to do something with all of the information and tools available now at our fingertips. One of my favorite “tools,” and absolutely crucial to my work would have to be the simple but powerful “google image search.” For my inspiration, I now have access to an unlimited amount of knowledge, and amazing images of anything I can think of, giving me access to priceless insights and inspiration for my art. I once even taught myself Adobe Flash in 2 weeks using only google and youtube, (and insane amounts of coffee…,) and made my very first first animated cartoon.
I grew up with Star Trek and Star Wars… I’ve been waiting for a sci-fi enriched future my whole life! I am always looking for ways to bring technology and my passions together as an artist, and aside from Walt Disney Studios going door to door and training willing artists and dreamers such as myself, I couldn’t think of a better Time to live in. We can literally learn to do anything we want. The old cliché our parents and teachers used to tell us growing up is actually true: “We can be anything we want to be,” and we can do anything if we just set our minds, and Google Search to it…!