There’s a story that, when Ernest Hemingway was asked how to write a novel, he responded: “First you defrost the refrigerator.”
Whether that’s true or a tall tale, the quote’s popularity reflects a few things: We want to know that we have company in our habit of procrastinating, and we want reassurance that we can follow through on our creative pursuits. I believe we can. You and I may not be the next Hemingways, but maybe we can flourish amid the creative process.
Procrastination is the inability to jump into a task with ease. It’s resistance at its core. Often, it feels awful because it stirs up anxiety in our bodies, feelings of guilt, and thoughts of being stuck. We look for quick escape from this unease, and turn to other more comforting tasks.
We procrastinate for many reasons: fear of the unknown, fear of failure or success, indecisiveness, impulsiveness, boredom, uncertainty about the next step or the plan overall, worries about the time commitment, feelings of inadequacy or amateurism, and concerns about the sheer difficulty of the task.
It’s all too easy to procrastinate on our own creative pursuits. Our culture treats creativity like a luxury and we internalize those messages. So, we shift our own pursuits to the end of the to-do list. Most creative pursuits are long-term ones, so we put them on the long-range plan. But if you truly want to write, take photographs, make music, paint, teach or coach others, start a nonprofit or business, or tackle any other creative pursuit, you have to work through procrastination and not wait until retirement!
How To Stop Procrastinating and Flourish In Your Creative Pursuit:
- Get Real: Label It Procrastination. Most of the time, we know we’re doing it. Sometimes we got lost in the haze of checking texts or e-mails. But, often, we’ve fallen for our own excuses: “I’ll do it tomorrow,” “I’ll wait until I feel clearer on this,” “I should do other easier tasks first,” “I work well under pressure,” or “This must be a sign I shouldn’t do this and I’m on the wrong path.” Notice what you’re doing—simply making excuses, though compelling ones!
- Remind Yourself That Anxiety Is a Normal, Healthy Part of the Creative Process. Even more than knowing the reasons why we’re procrastinating, we have to trust that we can handle the anxious thoughts and body sensations. For more on handling creative anxiety, check out Eric Maisel’s books (affiliate link). Engaging in positive self-talk or reframing comes naturally for some people; others of us have to work on it. It’s not fluff; our thoughts are some of the biggest obstacles to taking action (including the thoughts and stories we heap on to the uncomfortable body sensations)!
- Identify and Work on a 3-Minute Task. Just get started; it’s breaking the ice. Maybe the next step is short and concrete—like writing three sentences. Or maybe the task will take longer but you commit to working on it for three minutes. Recently, there was an article on 99u on treating procrastination like a bandaid: “get it over with as quickly as possible.” Once you get started, you might just work for more than three minutes. Nonetheless, it feels better to take small action steps than to wait, plain and simple. The confidence and tools emerge while you’re working on the project. The fears begin to appear in the rearview mirror.
- Make It Easy to Follow Through. In my post 3 Steps to Carve Out Time for Creative Pursuits, I talked about this one. It applies just as well for procrastination as for time limitations: “Remove the barriers to starting, as well the distractions. Have any materials you need within sight and reach. Then, give yourself credit for putting in the time, regardless of the results.”
- Get Support. Line up an accountability partner whom you report to with your tasks completed or the time put into the pursuit. Talk about your creative pursuit with positive and supportive friends and family. Being secretive allows you to keep at your procrastinating pace without supportive inquiry.
- Reward Yourself After. The wave of relief you feel for working past procrastination may be reward enough. If you’re working on a long-term creative pursuit, you may want to add an additional reward, though. Rewards do help us build healthy habits that our brains crave.
- Remind Yourself That Your Creative Pursuit Is Meaningful—to you and anyone you share it with. Creativity matters for your wellbeing. Enough said.
Comment Below: What have you been procrastinating on lately? Putting it out there is the first step in following through.
Commit to your creative pursuit; get inspiration from In Tandem:
Photo Credit: By S. Zolkin via Unsplash