All the ideas and brainstorming in the world can’t help you if you don’t take action and do something about them. In any process of creation your greatest enemy is always procrastination. If you ever wish to be someone who actually achieves something, rather than one of the many who had all the best ideas, your greatest skill will need to be fighting your own procrastinating mind.
It’s a tough battle, but somebody has got to do it. Since it’s your mind that’s creating all the trouble, you’re volunteered for this skirmish whether you like it or not. Procrastination, writers block, all sorts of other creative blocks, and just plain laziness, they all happen so regularly because, face it, you’re brilliant. You’re so brilliant, that your brain comes up with these perfect and logical excuses for not doing things all the time and you just can’t argue with brilliant and flawless logic.
Be thankful that the world and human life, doesn’t actually function on logic. No sir it doesn’t. Look at a newspaper, any newspaper, and you will see hundreds of examples of brute force winning out over logic, so would it be so wrong to channel some of this barbaric brute force in a positive manner for once and use it to fight all that flawless logic that’s holding you back from world domination? I think not. So here are some fights you need to pick to get going and do wonders:
1] Fight mental inertia
Take the first step, no matter how small.
Your procrastinating brain is like a frozen engine on a cold snowy morning. You might want to get going and get a head start on the day, but it has different plans. Starting problems are often the most difficult to deal with because you start with nothing and you expect to end up with something. That’s a scary thought, so your mind refuses to budge.
One of my favourite ways to deal with this is to destroy the “nothing” state of affairs as soon as possible. If I’m working on a new project, I will create a new folder on the computer for it, and maybe a special text file to hold my notes and musings on the topic. Or, I might just list out all the requirements or aims of the project in my trusty old-fashioned notebook. Viola! Suddenly, you’re not starting from nothing. While it might seem like no actual progress has been made, you’ll be surprised how much easier starting will now seem. Now you have a folder to fill or an outline in a notebook to follow and everything flows from there.
2] Fight the fear of large tasks
Break it down and make a todo list of small steps.
Another aspect that often holds you back is that almost anything of significance you want to do is never simple. Any project or piece of work has a whole bunch of sub-tasks that require to be done. Your mind might be brilliant, but it is also easily confused. Simply trying to itemize the various things to be done in your mind can put you off the whole thing, because you can only hold so many things in your head at any one moment, and you’re not quite sure what to focus on.
This is why human beings invented paper. The best solution to this problem is to break up any large undertaking into its constituent steps. Now break those down even further until you have a long list of very ordinary and easy tasks to accomplish. Start at the beginning and go down the list, and before you know it you will be making great strides towards the completion of what seemed like an impossibly gargantuan job.
3] Fight the clock
If you think you don’t have enough time, give yourself a 10 minute deadline.
There’s never enough time in the day. You have thoroughly convinced yourself of this fact. After all, you aren’t exactly sitting around wondering what to do. There is always something to hold your attention, whether fruitful or otherwise. In this milieu of activity, it’s quite natural to come to the conclusion that there’s not enough time to tackle that much delayed symphony you were composing, because you never have an hour or two at a stretch to exercise your creative muscle. I say that’s rubbish!
One trick that I have found to work wonders in this situation is to give yourself ridiculous time constraints. In other words, if you think you don’t have enough time, give yourself less! You think you can’t work on that short story now because you need to go out in another 20 minutes? Excellent! Now give yourself a 10-minute deadline for writing, write like a mad person, stop, spend the next 10 minutes getting ready, and go out. I guarantee that you will be surprised by how much you got done when you return and look at what you wrote. This sort of forced urgency always works for me, and you will find that some of your best work in any field can come out of this exercise.
4] Fight the infinite research syndrome
Convert research into action by taking notes on paper.
My all time favourite internal logic for procrastination is when you convince yourself that you don’t know enough or have enough information to really get to work yet. So, you sit down to do some research instead. Aah!, the many days and months I have wasted doing research. I remember them fondly. Having the internet with its seemingly bottomless pit of information hasn’t really helped this situation any.
The problem with research is that it is often a passive activity. You sit there and click like there’s no tomorrow. A world of facts, data and images scroll past your eyes and you accomplish nothing. The way to fight this is to disconnect yourself a little from the mesmerising input. If you’re doing research on the internet, for example, make it an active process and get a little primitive. Keep some paper and a pen handy and don’t just save files, but take notes too. This makes research an active process. Taking notes and using more muscle than your mouse-finger forces you to think about what you are reading and make judgments. Also write down other impressions or notions that come to mind as you do this, and very often you will be excited to get away from this to implement some great idea that suddenly comes to you.
5] Fight distractions
If you convince yourself that you need to sit down, lie down, or watch some TV at a crucial moment, go do something completely different.
At around the half-way mark of any project or task, it is common to feel like taking a nap. Unfortunately, these naps can often last several days, and your half-completed task becomes cold and insipid, and seems impossible to go back to after the break. This is that dreaded fork in the road where some people chose to carry on bravely and the others choose to abandon the journey. This one point in the progress of any task is the single reason why so many people have so many half-completed pet projects that haven’t been touched for months, years, or even decades.
My solution: laundry. Well, I don’t necessarily recommend that you all do laundry. I recognise that some of you are best kept away from delicates and whites for the sake of well groomed people everywhere. When you come to this point of tiredness during a task, resist the urge to sleep, watch TV, or resort to some other form of aimless relaxation. Instead, do something completely different. Do something that is still an activity but something that you can do without too much thought. Water your garden, feed the cat, do the dishes, whatever. I choose to do laundry, because there is always some part of the process that I can take on at any time on any given day — putting clothes into the washing machine, putting them out to dry, putting the dry clothes away and so on. This keeps you active, gives your brain a rest, and you still get the satisfaction of accomplishing something that needed to be done. Once that is done go back to your main task and you will be able to get back into it refreshed and enthusiastic again. And you’ll learn a whole lot more about fabric softener!
6] Fight the finishing fluster
In the last stretch, hold your pleasures at ransom until you complete the task.
After the half-way stumble, the second and just as dangerous obstacle you can face is when you come to the very end of your chosen project or task. I’m sure most of you have had the urge, just before you finish something, to walk away from it for a breather. Don’t get me wrong, breathers are great, and necessary. But there are breathers, and breathers, and some of them can last forever. Here’s the other major reason there are so many incomplete pet projects out there. How many times have you heard yourself say, “It’s almost done, but it just requires some finishing touches?” How long have you been saying this?
Finishing something can become as much of an insurmountable challenge as starting it. The way I have found to get past this hurdle is one that I have heard mentioned by many others — a carrot on a stick. By the end of a long project wouldn’t you love to just sit back and watch that movie you’ve been waiting for for months? Well you can’t! Not until you actually finish anyway. Holding some personal pleasure for ransom until you finish a task works as a great motivator. It might seem brutal and unsavoury, but that evil genius you have inside your head doesn’t deserve anything less that ruthlessness sometimes, and you must be prepared to dish it out for the greater good.
7] Fight fatigue
Once you have finished what you set out to do, give yourself a well deserved reward.
What could be left after the task is done? As a designer, I learnt very early on that in any design, the positive space (the shapes and objects you are designing) is only as important as the negative space (the blank white space that surrounds your design). The same holds true for the process of tackling a task. The time you spend off the project is just as important as the time you spend on the project, and this is especially true for the time right after completion.
Remember those pleasures you were forced to hold for ransom in the end game? Make sure you now indulge in them. Read a book, watch a movie, sky-dive, whatever it is you were looking forward to doing, do it. And while you’re doing that, keep your mind completely free of all thoughts about work, todo lists, and projects. This downtime is not only helpful but essential in resting your brilliant mind before the next battle. The rested and satisfied genius within can lead to all sorts of flashes of brilliance when you start on your next project. But a fatigued and disgruntled genius within becomes an even more stubborn procrastinator. You don’t really want to take on that sort of brutal competition do you? After all, you just can’t argue with brilliant and flawless logic, especially your own.