You know that thing you’ve been meaning to do? You remember — that one project that is such a good idea . . . and yet . . . you just can’t seem to get moving on it?
You know you want to do it.
You know you need to do it.
You know you would really love having it done.
So what’s the holdup? Why aren’t you moving forward on the projects that matter most to you?
In my work with hundreds of creative people, I have found there are a few common thought patterns that keep people stuck, and often the solution is just a quick mental game away.
Some of these are rather unconventional solutions, but hey — you’re an unconventional person. And let’s face it, if a cookie-cutter solution would work, you would have done it by now, right?
Problem: You Know What You Need to Do, You Just Can’t Make Yourself Do It
Intellectually, you have this problem dialed. Heck, you could even give someone else quite detailed advice about how to get going on their weight-loss strategy or their marketing campaign or their big presentation. You just can’t make you do it.
Solution: Zhuzh It Up
This is a great opportunity for you to access your most creative, wackadoodle self and dream up a plan of attack that’s totally out of left field.
• Start in the middle and work backward.
• Take it much, much too lightly. Be blithe.
• Make up a little song about it.
• Think up three strategies that would get you the opposite result.
Make this project into a word game, a race, an efficiency challenge — anything you can think of that will get you out of the grind of “I should . . . I ought to . . . I know I really should . . .” and into the mind-set of loose, playful, fun productivity.
Problem: You Don’t Really Want to Do It, You Just Want It to Be Done
This shows up around projects like doing your taxes, or completing the scrapbook, or following up on the business cards you collected at that last event. You don’t feel any joy at the prospect of the task itself; you only feel joy at the idea of the task being completed.
Solution: Treat Yourself Like a Reluctant Nine-Year-Old
First, tell the truth and acknowledge to yourself how much you genuinely do not want to do this thing. Really get your feelings out. Stand up and tell the pile of papers in no uncertain terms how you wish they would just file themselves; holler at the crate of craft supplies; make a rude face at the envelope filled with receipts.
This may sound silly, but it’s astonishing how much energy gets freed up when you quit acting like such a responsible grown-up all the time and let your inner nine-year-old stomp around for a bit.
Then think of some nice treat that your inner nine-year-old might enjoy. A walk in the sunshine? A new book or toy? A special snack? Promise yourself a reward that genuinely delights you and then make sure you deliver once you meet your goal. Inner nine-year-olds are known to hold a grudge if you neglect your promises.
Problem: Fear of Failure
Also known as perfectionism. Shows up in phrases like, “I just need to get all my ducks in a row,” and, “If I can’t do it well, I don’t want to do it at all.” Entirely understandable. And almost impossible to get out of.
Solution: Put It in Beta
When software developers are ready to have their product tested, they release it in “beta,” which means they only show it to people who understand that there are going to be some bugs. In fact, they show it to those people with the express intent of having them find the bugs and mistakes. So . . . be selective about with whom you share your project, and reassure yourself that you can quit anytime.
Tell yourself that you’re just experimenting. You’re just testing out how it might feel to write every day or commit to that yoga teacher training. No biggie.
Problem: Fear of Success
Sometimes you don’t start something because you’re afraid it might work. What if you actually sell that screenplay? What if your little drawings become really popular? What if you make a lot of money and your friends get jealous and then your accountant embezzles from you and you end up back at that waitressing job you had in college? Honey, this is you not using your imaginative powers for good.
Solution: Reality Check
Rather than wasting your brilliant story-making-up abilities on reckless fantasies in which everything spins out of your control, why not see if there’s even a possibility that anyone else would want your service or work of art? Try posting the idea on the social media site of your choice or floating it past an encouraging friend. (Again — be careful with whom you share your baby idea; protect it from critics, vultures, and energy vampires.) I know one person who posted a photo on Facebook of a wood-block print she had made over the weekend, and within three hours she had five orders. And she hadn’t even thought about selling them before that. I once put a little poem I’d written in an email and received such an avalanche of response, it was easy for me to get motivated to turn it into a Kindle book (it’s called An Artist Talks to God, if you want to check it out).
Problem: You Feel Overwhelmed Every Time You Think About It
Procrastination often means that your project is too big. Items on your list like, “clean out the garage,” or “plan anniversary party,” or “create marketing budget for next quarter” are actually multistage projects that need to be “chunked out” in order to be conquered.
Solution: Commit to 15 Minutes a Day
My favorite strategy of all time is to recommend that you spend 15 minutes a day — preferably first thing in the morning — on the big project that matters most to you. As I discuss in my new book, Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day, it’s astonishing how much work you can get done in that amount of time, and even more amazing the progress you can make when you meet that commitment every day for a week, a month, six months, or more. Try it. It’s stupid-great how well it works.
Your procrastination is a form of self-deprivation; it’s keeping you from the life you really want. So use every trick and tool you can find to move past the mental blocks that are keeping you stuck and reward yourself mightily when you finally cross over into the sunshine of creative productivity.
worked at the renowned Second City Theatre in Chicago, also home to such comic talent as Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. In addition to her multifaceted writing and performance work, she specializes in personal branding and career strategies. She lives in a tiny beach town outside Los Angeles.
Based on the book Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day by Sam Bennett. Copyright © 2014 by Samantha Bennett.