When I told my 11 year-old son I was going to write a blog on procrastination, he asked me what it meant. When I explained the definition to him, he immediately cringed and said, “Ugh! Don’t say that word. It makes my (taps on his solar plexus) hurt.”
That pretty much nails it on the head. That tightness in your chest, that incessant worrying, the agony over your inaction. Now my solar plexus is clenching.
If you’re not being held to a deadline by someone who’s handing you a paycheck, chances are, once you make a commitment to yourself to do something, (exercise, meditate, writing, painting, reading, etc.) you may immediately find yourself on Pinterest, Facebook, or Instagram, scrolling the accounts of people you don’t even like or respect for hours on end. For me, I prefer hiding from my creative endeavors by cleaning the kitchen for 3 hours. The other example was purely fictional.
This week I have been in the thick of procrastinating.
It hit me yesterday when I was literally rolling pennies. ROLLING PENNIES. This seemed like a high priority at the time. I mean how the hell am I supposed to be creative when there is a cup of unrolled pennies 10 feet away from me? (Fellow procrastinators are closing their eyes and nodding.)
Once I came to, and realized that I was knee-deep in procrastination quicksand, I called my friend.
“Hi. I have given myself 3 daily practices to do: Exercising, meditation and writing. I only have to do each of them 10 minutes a day. (I find that if I give myself an out after 10 minutes, that 90% of the time I’ll do 3 times the amount.)
I’m doing EVERYTHING but the writing. I don’t know why!”
Just by saying those words out loud to another supportive person and hearing her 2 cents, I was able to figure out why I was afraid to write. And as soon as I discovered why, I was able to free my mind, unclench my hands and write freely and instantly.
If you’re rolling pennies right now, this one’s for you.
1) Don’t Aim for Perfect. Avoid having this be your goal. When your target is perfectionism you will get procrastination. I realized I had an undercurrent of perfectionism going in this area. Perfectionism comes from the Latin: “I am afraid I’m not good enough, so why the hell bother.”
Writers use a phrase called blah blah gold. Most of us don’t want to deal with the blah blahs of writing some tepid ideas out on the page, because we just want to pole vault our way right over to the gold. Sometimes you might get instant inspiration, but most of the time, your back in your chair, working on your project and dealing with the blah blahs. Get comfy here. The blah blahs, the imperfect yoga pose, the painted-over canvas, are all the opening act for the gold, your end result, your masterpiece. I like to think of this blah blah part as giving myself, my soul, my creative angels, a chance. And if you’re expecting perfect from yourself, there’s no time for that. More importantly, it’s not fun.
2) Do 80%. I love Dan Sullian’s book, “The 80% Approach.” He says, “The first time we do anything, when we finish judging our effort, it is 80% of the way there, no matter how much preparation we do before taking action.” He states that if you are a perfectionist, demanding 100% each time, you are wasting time with panicky thoughts and excessive unnecessary man hours trying to make something “perfect.” And God knows when we will ever get there. Instead of expecting 100% in one go-around, try 2 or 3 go-arounds, at 80%. And he says do this fast. Dive in.
Just hearing I only have to do 80%, takes the pressure off, and as Sullivan says, “nips perfectionism in the bud.” Knowing I can go for 80% makes it easier to start. I just have to take a stab at it, take a good bite out of it, and I’ll be WAY further along than if I stayed with my spice rack polishing.
3) Give Your Brain a Fighting Chance. In addition to chucking perfectionism and going for 80%, stay FAR way from anything that will pull you into a compare and despair mode. This could be Facebook, Instagram or any social media that demeans your existence. (So all of them.)
Your mind can be your greatest asset or your greatest enemy. If you need external stimulus to get started, only take in things that inspire you creatively, get you excited to take action, and that feel good. I turn off my phone. If you’ve never done this, it is liberating. And yes you feel like you will miss out on a job via Instagram. But you won’t! Because that’s silly.
So to recap, here are my procrastination zappers:
1) Just do it! Make it messy, make it unorganized, just make it happen and drop being perfect.
2) Do 80%.
3) Fill your mind with what you want and where you want your project to go. Not what a jaded poo-head who hates their life will think of you.
These techniques helped me finish this blog. I hope they help you start, continue, or finish what is important to you.
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What are your particular procrastination areas? What activity steals your time away from starting? Did this help you? Let me know!