I have FINALLY gotten around to writing this post on procrastination! That was a joke, of course—the last one you’ll read in this post, I promise. In my defense, I think it requires a bit of self-deprecating humor to make light of the very human trait of putting off until tomorrow that which can be done today (to paraphrase my man, Ben Franklin).
A friend of mine (not Ben Franklin) who is herself a self-professed procrastinator, described to me the traits of her procrastination, such as finding absolutely anything else to do besides confronting the task at hand. I have never thought that I suffered from procrastination. I would not have chosen such a deadline-heavy line of work if I did, but what she described was familiar to me and that’s the point: we ALL procrastinate. Some of us are just better at it than others.
Every artist knows the feeling of getting that great idea for a project, song, story, sketch or painting only to have it completely stall out before the real work begins. Maybe you are like me and have notebooks filled with these ideas. Some ideas probably don’t deserve further effort, of course, but it can be a frustrating feeling nevertheless.
Chronic procrastination has a number of drawbacks, some of them are more obvious than others. The good news is there are also effective ways to combat this problem.
Negative Effects of Procrastination
There are negative consequences to chronic procrastination. Here are a few:
1) Poor Physical Health
Procrastinating causes stress which has been shown to increase the risk of illness and disease.
2) Poor Mental Health
Does procrastinating make you depressed? The Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa Canada found that it certainly can. You can read the results of their survey on the subject here.
3) Bad Reputation
As a working artist (freelance illustrator, writer or graphic designer) your reputation is critical to getting new work. Procrastinators may earn a reputation as an unreliable, and therefore risky, hire.
For those who make a living from their work, procrastination is a formidable opponent who saps productivity and threatens one’s livelihood. This inability to get the job done erodes self-confidence, not just earning power, and as I mentioned, it can lead to a reputation of unreliability.
Please read the following tips for avoiding procrastination. They may not work for everyone but I have certainly found them useful in avoiding the avoidance of work. Do them. Do them now!
1) Get a Game Plan
Before you start work on a project, take a minute to plan it out. Creating a quick outline is a great way for writers to get going on a story whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. Plot it out, make a plan then put it into effect.
2) Start Breaking Down
Do a little every day, even if that little bit seems inconsequential. A bucket that gets filled up one drop at a time is still getting filled. For my own part, as a freelance writer I may make an outline for an article one day, write an introductory sentence the next, then keep plugging away at it here and there every day. As the deadline approaches, I have a guide and a good idea of where I’m going. Breaking down projects into smaller, more manageable chunks is a good way to get going and stay on target.
3) Do ‘To Do’ Lists
I love to do lists. I make them every work day and on most weekends too. I like the satisfaction of crossing things off that list. I will admit to sometimes putting some pretty trivial tasks on there just for the satisfaction of crossing them off,, but that just makes me feel like I’m on a roll.
4) Set Deadlines but Don’t Wait for the Deadlines
Setting deadlines for projects you’d like to finish is an effective way to stay on track. You can make them daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, even yearly. When you miss a deadline, don’t beat yourself up too much. Don’t make them too hard either. Unobtainable or impossible self-imposed deadlines will erode that self-confidence pretty quickly.
Self-imposed deadlines may be harder to meet than say, a deadline to complete work for a gallery opening or exhibit. Any project that will result in a payday is too important to blow off. You have to eat to create. You can’t really starve and be an artist, remember? I am trying to dispel that myth.
5) Celebrate Success
When you successfully meet a deadline, treat yourself to something nice. Celebrate with friends. Drink a beer. Watch a movie. Take a moment to acknowledge your accomplishment then get to work on meeting the next deadline. Don’t go too crazy and blow your weekly budget though.
6) Eliminate Unproductive Productivity
Deluded procrastinators may create a false sense of productivity for themselves by engaging in busy work. When deadlines loom, this isn’t the time to organize paper clips. Learn to prioritize.
7) Avoid Time Wasters
The Internet (social media in particular), texts, instant messaging, news feeds: turn them off. There are many anti-procrastinating apps out there. I have tried none of them because I am pretty good at resisting those urges, but here is a list of them anyway.
I hope these tips inspire you to get busy and stay busy. Life is full of distractions and there are many, many things competing for our attention, both human and technological. Let me know if these tips helped or if you have some of your own you’d like to share.
This book may help too. You won’t really be asked to eat a frog. It’s just a metaphor.