Two ways to tackle creative procrastination

Any time I sit down to create something, I face an immediate sense of being overwhelmed.

My mind immediately races across everything that needs to get done. I have to organize my tools, make sure everything is up to date and working, ensure that I didn’t break or otherwise ruin anything the last time I sat down to work, and double-check the Internet to see if there’s anything that might inspire me while I’m working. The list of things that must be done in order to prepare myself to work feels endless, and has nothing to do with the list of things that entail actually doing the work.

Maybe you feel the same way whenever you sit down to work?

Whenever we feel overwhelmed like this, our minds are naturally drawn away from whatever it is we want or need to do and instead attempt to find relief in the act of procrastination. And to not to fool yourself, procrastination can take on many different forms: it’s not just watching videos on YouTube or Instagram.

Procrastination can disguise itself as spending a little too much time organizing your desk space, or of saying you need to “feel inspired” and then spending an inordinate amount of time browsing the web for something—anything—that makes the job ahead of us feel at least a little bit easier. Procrastination is really anything that doesn’t produce tangible results for the job at hand.

When we shy away like this from the work that’s sitting in front of us, waiting for us to explore it, we miss opportunities to get just a little more of the puzzle solved. To see a little more of the stone carved out. To make that small amount of progress that might actually end up inspiring us, or motivating us, toward a creative result.

Our attempts at somehow making the work easier by avoiding it tend to have the opposite affect. We burn precious hours and stumble on “inspirations” which aren’t often what we really need in order to do our best work.

If we want to deal with the sense of being overwhelmed any time we sit down to do creative work, there are two, more helpful, options.

The first is to simply dive-in. Don’t give your brain time to chicken out. Sit down and get started and see what happens as a result. It’s a way of faking it to make it happen, and doesn’t give the logical, un-creative parts of your brain enough time to realize what’s going on.

The second option is to really focus on breaking down what must be done into very actionable steps. Write it down. Each step should have a clear deliverable that you can cross-off. This is a way of being logical with what needs to get done while also creating a clear plan on how to do so. Once the list is created, the only thing to do is go back to the first option: dive in.

Any time I bring up the topic of procrastination, I have to mention the unforgettable quote from Merlin Mann, who said:

“We procrastinate when we’ve forgotten who we are.”

That is to say: when we have work to do but face the urge to instead flip over to Netflix, or skim across Tumblr, or open up Instagram one more time, it’s worth taking just a moment to remind ourselves of who we are and what we want to accomplish.

For me, I want to be someone who shares insights on how to be more creative and do more with your ideas. I can’t accomplish that if I’m watching videos or playing games all the time. It can only be done by putting the words on the page, or designing the work, and sharing it. That’s it.

Once I remember that fact, that I’m someone who shares insights into creativity, I can either dive right into the work, or create a clear outline for how I can get it done.

What about you? Who are you, what do you want accomplished, and if you were to drop everything right now and just dive into doing what you can, with what you have now, what would happen?