Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc.
Like so many peeps, I have a hard time with procrastination. This is especially baffling for me, because I find these days I procrastinate over things I like to do, and wonder what the hell’s wrong with me. I was a much better procrastinator when I was younger, when I took ages to do boring school assignments and chores, preferring to write, draw, read, etc. Now I have a hard time jumping on the computer to edit film, or work on After Effects, and such. Is it the technology? Is is fear of completion? What? What? What??
Goddamn it all, I need answers. Well, I didn’t find them all in Neil Fiore’s book, but there are some nice “mind hacks” (to borrow a term) inside. The book, you may not be surprised to hear, is recommended over at 43 Folders, the boosters for Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done. Books like these are always easy to read (and finish, bwah), so why not, I asked.
The book comes from 1989, B.E.M. (Before Email), so when Fiore makes note of “Inboxes filled with letters” he’s talking about paper. (Tell me, grandad, what was it like in an office back then?)
And of course, the book is designed for the executive and/or office worker who, let’s face it, has nothing but sucky things to work on anyway. When you die, nobody will remember you for the 2001 semi-quarterly report of potato vendors. Such is life.
But there’s plenty for artists and creatives and before I forget the sage (and just plain) wisdom, I’ll write it down here.
* Making the mistake of identifying too much with a project, until any opinion on the project is taken as an opinion on yourself. Therefore, “…procrastination can serve as a delaying action and as a way of getting past your perfectionism. If you delay starting your work, you cannot do your best and so any critiscim or failure will not be a judgement of the real you or your best effort.” Although true, sometimes my best writing is done when I’m under the gun. I’d prefer not to be under the gun, yet neither do I judge my rush work as less than my own writing.
* Fiore compares a task to walking along a foot-long plank of wood for 30 feet. Easy? But what if it was 50 ft off the ground, suspended between two buildings? We’d find it hard to get across. But what if the roof we were on was on fire? We’d probably find a way to get across. Procrastinating, says Fiore, is when we raise the plank of wood ourselves and then set fire to the building–that is, we wait until the last minute until outside events force us to actually do the job. We create pressure that doesn’t need to be created…
* It’s all about word choice. In his most salient yet psychobabbly point, Fiore recommends switching the verb “have” with “choose”, ideas of punishment and outside forces switching with rewards and free will. So don’t say “I have to finish this assignment by 5 o’clock…or else!!”. Instead say “I choose to finish this assignment (because this is the life I’m leading at the moment, etc. etc.)” Now whether this will enable my life script and/or send me into a shame spiral I don’t know, but actually I find this a good way of looking at things, and certainly gave me a little new perspective (along with GTD) that allowed me to finish the music video I was working on. Weeks of “I have to finish this!” produced very little, because I was grouping it all together. Once I broke all that needed to be done into little batches of assignments, suddenly it was “I choose to finish one AfterEffects shot tonight” or “I want to/I bet I can…” etc.
* “Whenever you catch yourself losing motivation on a project, look for the implicit “have to” in your thinking and make a decision at that moment to embrace the path–as it is, not the way you think it should be–or let go of it. It’s your choice.”
* Other changes in your inner voice: Replace “I must finish” with “When can I start?”
* There is a link between chronic procrastinators and workaholics: “they are either working or feeling guilty about no working.”
* Make a reverse calendar. Start with the end date, then plot out the other dates that run up to it. This does mean, however, that you must pull apart a majority of the small actions ahead of time, and make room for the unknown. This is easier said than done.
* Questions to ask yourself to overcome fear, especially when planning a project: “What’s the worst that could happen?” “What would I do if the worst really happened?” “How would I lessen the pain and get on with as much happiness as possible if the worse did occur?” “What alternatives would I have?” “What can I do now to lessen the probability of this dreaded event occuring?” and “Is there anything I can do now to increase my chances of achieving my goal?” These are fair questions to ask, as long as you are not completely delusional and do them ahead of time.
* A lot of these suggestions are Buddhist. As is GTD. Dave Allen was a former hippie. Go figure.
* Telling yourself “I should have started earlier” is a waste of time. You’ve started, so do the work.
* “Only work will diminish your anxiety.” I like that maxim. Also: “Procrastination is another form of work” (but not in a good way).
* Use reverse psychology: “I must not work more that 2 hours a day on this project.” Guess what happens.
* Let go of larger goals (temporarily) in order to focus on smaller goals that can be accomplished sooner.
So that’s about it (or what I marked down as interesting). Fiore hits the same points over and over, and I still have a hard time thinking about business people and why they should care about the stack of paper on their desks. I’m glad someone is there to help them out and who also, along the way, helps out the artist.
On a side note, this book came out in 1989, which isn’t that long ago really. But one of the main ways to procrastinate–email and Internet–just didn’t exist.