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Issue 24


In this issue ~~

* Overcoming Procrastination

* Creative Tip

* Wise Words

* Bookshelf


Overcoming Procrastination

Procrastination is something that plagues all of us at one time or another. It can range from putting off household chores to major avoidance of your creative work. It may be about something you hate doing or something you really want to do, but just can't bring yourself to get to it. And it may run the gamut from mildly frustrating to debilitating.

There are many reasons why we procrastinate, and therefore, an array of remedies.

The Reason -- We may procrastinate because we've let a job pile up to the point where it's overwhelming. This may be housework, cleaning out files, a term paper, or any project that's up against a deadline.

The Remedy -- Stay on top of the job. Do a little every day, rather than letting it accumulate to overwhelming proportions. If it's a job you hate, like doing dishes, commit to washing them after every meal, rather than leaving them for a day or more. If you're facing a deadline, don't wait till the last minute. Break the project down into small, manageable pieces. Set a timeline to accomplish each step, and stick to it.

The Reason -- Sometimes we procrastinate because we're not adequately prepared. We may not have the tools, skills or information to do the job.

The Remedy -- If you lack tools or skills, find a way to acquire them. Take classes, read books, and most of all, practice. Your skill level may not be up to your vision, but be patient with yourself and keep going. The more you practice, the better you'll get.

If you already have the appropriate skill level, it may be that you need to get more information or allow your ideas to germinate a bit more. Formulate your ideas the best you can and get them down on paper. Once you see where the holes are, go out and complete your research or work out the missing pieces.

The Reason -- It may be hard to focus, because you haven't given yourself enough time.

The Remedy -- Set aside a big enough block of time to allow you to "get into" the project without feeling pressured. Sometimes it takes time to get warmed up, and if you don't stick through that period, you'll never get to the productive stage.

The Reason -- Whenever you start to work, there are endless distractions that eat away at your time, until little or nothing gets done.

The Remedy -- Eliminate the distractions. Get a babysitter, close the door, turn off the phone ringer, resolve to check e-mail only once or twice a day. If something is nagging at you that needs to get done, do it first and get it out of the way, or set another specific time when you will do it, so you can get it off your mind. Use a daily planner or time management system to help you prioritize tasks. If the distractions become more important than your work, it may be time to look at why you're avoiding the work that's supposed to be important to you. Keep reading . . .

The Reason -- It's hard to get started.

The Remedy -- Start with "mindless," nonthreatening tasks, like setting up your workspace, preparing your tools, eliminating distractions. Create a kind of ritual to get your focus away from other things and onto the job you want to do. You'll start thinking about the project and soon find yourself eager to begin.

The Reason -- We may feel overwhelmed by the size or scope of the job or what it may require of us. Or we may feel confused and overwhelmed by the chaos that's part of the early stages of the creative process.

The Remedy -- Take it a step at a time. Just jump in. Start. Get some of your ideas down, however random. Do an outline, some sketches. Don't worry about beginning at the beginning and working in a linear fashion. Put down whatever comes to you, however disjointed or sketchy. As you get deeper into the process, your ideas will begin to gel, and you'll get a clearer direction of where you want to go. If you just concern yourself with the next step, and then the next, you'll get there, rather than thinking you have to take the whole thing in one big leap.

The Reason -- Often with creative projects, we procrastinate because we fear what will follow if we complete it. We're afraid of rejection, criticism, feeling not good enough -- patterns that often began in childhood.

The Remedy -- Understand that in procrastinating, you're trying to protect yourself from a perceived painful outcome. Reframe the future you expect. Rather than expecting rejection, criticism or failure, start visualizing the personal satisfaction and sense of accomplishment you'll get from finishing the work, as well as seeing other people enjoying your work, getting published or seen, or getting good reviews.

Stay focused in the moment, on what you're doing rather than the outcome. Enjoy the creative process, rather than worrying about the result. Do it for yourself, instead of being concerned about what others will think. Keep shifting your focus back to the work itself and the joy it brings you. If you're stuck on getting other people's approval, you may need to do some work on that to build your own self-confidence and self-esteem, so that your gauge for success comes from within.

The Reason -- For many of us, nothing less than perfect is acceptable. Since we can't attain that, why begin?

The Remedy -- As with fear of criticism and rejection, perfectionism may also result from a childhood need to please the overly-demanding authorities in our lives. But perfection is a pretty hard goal to obtain, if not impossible. And the need to be perfect can stifle the creative process. Set reasonable standards for yourself. It's enough to go for your personal best, knowing that you'll get better with practice, rather than feeling like you have to compete with the masters. It's a great ideal to hold, but be gentle enough with yourself to know that ideals are there to stimulate your performance, not to be reached.

By giving yourself permission to be less than the best, you can also create an environment for your special and unique qualities to emerge. I used to be a big fan of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. The lead dancer at the time, Judith Jamison, didn't have the best technique in the company, but she brought passion and a grand presence to her dancing. There were better dancers technically, but she was the one that I -- and many others -- came to see.

The Reason -- We may have a picture of how great we can be, and secretly fear that we never will be.

The Remedy -- It's easier to hold the fantasy than face the reality. Fantasies are fun. You can imagine being a famous actor or writer, winning the Nobel Prize or getting rave reviews in the New York Times. But if you actually sit down and do your work, you have to face the fact that you may not be the next Hemingway or Picasso. In a world where only the best is acceptable, that can be tough. Fantasies can be emotionally gratifying, but in the end, you have nothing to show for them.

Again, set reasonable standards for yourself. Know that if you're writing your first novel, it's probably not going to be a masterpiece. Give yourself time to learn your craft and develop your artistry. Aim to be the best you can be, and be persistent. The level of greatness is a very thin layer, and there's plenty of room for good, solid work.

Procrastination can be challenging, but it can be overcome. It takes action, and you need to be committed to taking that action and following through.

* Discover your reason for procrastinating.

* Develop a strategy or game plan for moving through it.

* Get support. It's easier to follow through when you have encouragement and perhaps someone to be accountable to.

* Motivate yourself by setting up a reward system. Fear of punishment has not proven to be a good motivator. Instead, plan positive incentives for yourself. In some cases, the accomplishment of the work itself will be reward enough.

* Keep going. Often, procrastination is the result of a long-standing emotional habit, and you will have to renew both your commitment and your action on a daily basis to break that habit.

If you continue to procrastinate despite your best efforts, you may need to take a deeper look. Perhaps there are some issues that could be handled more effectively with the help of a counselor or therapist. Or you may simply need the support of a friend, family member or coach to keep you on track. Perhaps you're trying to force yourself to do something you really don't want to do, in order to please somebody else or live up to an externally-imposed standard, and you need to reconsider whether you want to continue down that path. If it's something you have to do, like your taxes, get support or help, perhaps hiring someone.

Facing up to procrastination may be tough. It may take a concerted effort, and you still may never live up to your imagined level of success. But there are rewards -- isn't it better to be a 5 for real than a 10 in your dreams?


Creative Tip

While it's important to deal with recurring resistances, sometimes in the moment, a pragmatic approach works best. Several years ago, I was doing busy work to try to dissipate the anxiety I was feeling about sending out job resumes. A good friend called and asked what I was doing. I told him I was trying to motivate myself to send out resumes. He suggested that I stop trying to motivate myself and just do it. It worked!


Wise Words

"Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make you a far happier and more productive person."

~ Dr. David M. Burns

"Mind organizes and creates patterns. A good mind is one that is particularly perceptive of patterns. A creative mind can see unusual patterns that others ignore. An alert mind is aware, awake and present in a situation, ready to recognize old patterns and create new ones."

~ Henry Reed, Mysteries of the Mind




(click on the book graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)

The Tomorrow Trap: Unlocking the Secrets of the Procrastination-Protection Syndrome . . . Karen E. Peterson

I'll Do It Tomorrow: How to Stop Putting It Off and Get It Done Today . . . Jerry & Kristi Newcombe, with illustrations by Johnny Hart ("B.C.")

It's About Time!: The Six Styles of Procrastination and How to Overcome Them . . . Linda Sapadin and Jack Maguire

Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It . . . Jane B. Burka, Lenora M. Yuen

The NOW Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play . . . Neil A. Fiore

Living Without Procrastination: How to Stop Postponing Your Life . . . M. Susan Roberts

When Perfect Isn't Good Enough: Strategies for Coping With Perfectionism . . . Martin M. Antony and Richard P. Swinson

The Care and Feeding of Perfectionists . . . Cynthia Cuman


© 2000 Sharon Good. All rights reserved.

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