5 Strategies Artists Can Use to Overcome Procrastination

"Time Goes By So Fast" by JanetR3

 

Stop Thinking About It and Start Doing It!

By: Dan Johnson

You know that feeling when you’re dying to create some epic piece of artwork, but for some reason, it never gets done? As an artist, I get that feeling a lot. Sometimes I have a whole weekend free, and I think I’ll get a whole load of painting done, but I often get to the end of the weekend to find I haven’t even picked up a paintbrush. It’s not that I don’t want to do it, it’s just that something is preventing me from getting started. If you’ve experienced this (most people have), you’ll know how frustrating it can be. I’d like to share a few techniques I’ve tried whenever I start procrastinating, which often help me get back on track.

 

Why do we procrastinate?

There are many different forms of procrastination. Sometimes we may feel that the time we have in which to do something isn’t long enough, so we decide to wait until we can set aside a longer period of time. This is procrastination. Sometimes we may feel like we are lacking in motivation, and decide to wait until inspiration strikes. This is procrastination. Sometimes we simply get distracted by emails, Facebook, TV, anything but the thing we intend to do. This is procrastination. However, all these different forms of procrastination are really motivated by the same thing – FEAR! When we delve deeper than the superficial excuses and distraction techniques, we find that the root cause of procrastination is fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of not living up to our own expectations or those of others. This fear stops us from doing what we really want to do, because distracting ourselves and making excuses is a lot easier than facing those fears head on.

 

So how do we get past the fear?

The key to overcoming procrastination is simply to take action. To quote the title of a famous book by Susan Jeffers, Feel the fear and do it anyway.Obviously that’s easier said than done, which is why I want to share the following five strategies which I have used with some degree of success whenever I find that fear is causing me to procrastinate:

 

1. Shift your paradigm

A common excuse among procrastinators is “I’ll do it when I can find the time“. Well here’s a newsflash. You’re never going to find the time. You have to make time to do the things you want to do. People always tend to think that they’ll have more free time at some point in the future, but barring some radical change in your lifestyle, the opposite is more often true. Melissa Dinwiddie suggested this paradigm change in a recent blog post. Instead of thinking “I’ve only got 15 minutes, better wait until I have more time“, think about what you can do in 15 minutes. Sketch an idea for a painting, prime your canvas, get some paint on the canvas. Whatever you can squeeze in to the time you have, do it. As Melissa says, starting is the hardest part, and more often than not, once you’ve started, it’s a lot easier to keep going.

 

2. Focus on your purpose

If you’re struggling with a lack of motivation, don’t just sit there staring at your canvas, waiting for inspiration to strike. Try thinking about what motivated you to start painting (or whatever you do) in the first place. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the details of what you’re doing, and forget why you started doing it to begin with. Often, taking a step back and thinking about your higher purpose can help to inspire you into action. Do you want your work to evoke the beauty of nature? Do you paint to inspire people yourself? Is your main aim to entertain or educate? Thinking about your mission or purpose in this way may rekindle your motivation and help you take action. If you’re still feeling uninspired after that…

 

3. Make bad stuff

I’ve written before about how perfectionism is one of the main causes of procrastination. The fear of not living up to our own ridiculously high standards can be paralysing. The key to beating perfectionism is to intentionally make bad stuff, or at least stop caring so much about making everything perfect. There is really no such thing as perfection, so struggling to achieve it is guaranteed to cause you nothing but stress and anxiety. One technique I use is to keep a sketchbook that I will never show anyone, and draw in it regularly, with no concern of the outcome. Nobody’s going to see it, so it doesn’t matter if I fill it with crap, it’s just a great way to take action by removing the fear.

 

4. Be strict with your time

Another problem I have that often leads to procrastination, is overestimating what I can get done within a given period of time. If I have two hours free, I will often plan to write a blog post, post some social media updates, and finish a painting. Inevitably, when the two hours is up, I find that I’ve only just finished the blog post, maybe done some social networking, and the painting has gone out the window. It’s important to be more realistic about what you can achieve within the time you have. If you’re not sure how long something will take, just commit to spending a fixed period of time on it, no matter whether you finish it or not. In the above example, what I would do is set an alarm for 45 minutes. When that alarm goes off, I save my blog post if it’s not finished, set another alarm for 15 minutes, and do my social media stuff. At the next alarm, I switch to painting, and I know I’ve got a full hour to devote to it. I might not get everything finished that day, but it’s better to have spent some time on each task, rather than putting certain tasks off for the sake of finishing others.

 

5. Allow yourself to procrastinate.

If all else fails, you can at least use your procrastination productively. If you’re putting off starting a painting, at least make sure you’re not just sitting there twiddling your thumbs. Use the procrastination time to update your website, complete your tax return, or look for new networking opportunities. Just make sure that this is the exception rather than the rule. Try to overcome the procrastination if possible, but if you can’t, at least you can use it to your advantage. I hope you find these strategies useful in helping you to take action against procrastination. If you have any other tips that have worked for you, I’d love to hear about them.

Do you think creative artists have a tendency to procrastinate more than non-artists?

What do you do when you realize that you’re procrastinating? How do you stop yourself and get back to work?

(Dan Johnson is an artist who inspires people to make a living from their creativity on www.rightbrainrockstar.com)

 

Image courtesy of JanetR3

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Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for sharing your tips for getting past procrastination, Dan. I use many of these things myself. What I have found helped me tremendously was to FINALLY move to an electronic calendar and schedule things.

    The first blocks of time I set aside is specific timeframes to work on specific artworks. I use a minimum of one and a half hour for these blocks of time (I prefer 2 hours mostly so I can see real progress each time). I then set aside 3 half hour time frames each day (morning, afternoon and evening) for checking and replying to emails and social media. I get through what I can each time and know that I have more alloted time coming up.

    I set aside a 4 or 5 hour time frame one day a month to submit for juried art exhibitions or solo shows. On another day I set aside the same time frame for other art opportunities that I will have found to research and prepare packages.

    I have even computer and website backups scheduled monthly so I don’t forget anything. The setup was a bit of work but now I don’t know how I have produced without it! I have found that procrastination has dropped off considerably now.

    I am very structured Monday-Friday and leave the weekends open for fluid activities which quite often surprises me and is a few hours of studio time besides the very necessary decompression time to get ready for the next week.

    Looking forward to seeing what others have to contribute to the conversation as well.

    Continued Success!

    • Drew says

      I think you’re right Jean about how important it is to have some type of system in place. Different things work for different people, but I know that I have to at least have some type of organization otherwise I’ll spend my day jumping from one interesting website to the next.

      As far as procrastination goes, I’m one of those people who’s usually fine once I get started, but it’s being able to get that initial push to get started that’s difficult for me (just ask my dusty treadmill). I apparently have this tendency to over-think everything and run all of these “what-if” scenarios through my head until I become completely overwhelmed or curl up in the fetal position on the floor, so I often just have to jump in and start doing something before my feeble brain has the chance to over analyze the situation and send me into creative paralysis.

      Thanks Jean for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us, and I would also like to thank Dan again for sharing this article with us and opening up a discussion about an issue that affects so many of us.

    • says

      Hi Jean. I really like your idea of having fixed time slots to do email and social media. I think if you only do this once a day, say first thing in the morning, there can be a tendency to let it drag on too long, but if you know you have more time scheduled later, you’re more likely to stick to the 30 minute limit.

      Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  2. says

    Great article, Dan! Thanks for the shout-out, too. Setting teeny-tiny, bite-sized goals for getting started with my art-making has made a world of difference for me. In the course I’m running right now, I’ve shrunk the commitment down even further, to 10 minutes. The idea is to make the commitment so tiny you can’t NOT do it.

    The sneaky part, of course, is that once you start, you’re likely to keep going. But if you keep the *commitment* tiny, you’re much more likely to keep it up, and feel successful, which feeds the virtuous cycle. That’s why I keep my own creativity commitments ridiculously small, even now. I can always fit in 10 or 15 minutes, right? That helps me “keep my toe in the Creative Stream,” as I like to say. Plus even if really only do 10 or 15 minutes, I find myself thinking about my creative thing all throughout the day, which doesn’t happen if I only do, say, 2 hours once a week.

    Anyway, thanks again for the shout-out. And big hello to Drew — I’m delighted to discover your blog!

  3. says

    Drew,

    As always some thought-provoking content. So #5 productive procrastination as a strategy, hummmm. I think this is actually one of my downfalls. I spend time on things that I prefer to do which do benefit me as an artist, but they are often just a justification exercise designed to keep from tackling the things I really SHOULD be doing but am dreading. I guess it is better than just lying in bed…

  4. Debbie says

    Thanks. After all these years, it helps just to know that there are other artists who are not always consistently productive. The procrastination leads to so much guilt for me. I am finally at a place in life where I have the freedom and time to create and I only seem to produce about one good piece of art a year! It’s nice to hear from others. I can always inspire others but have trouble inspiring myself. Still working on it.

    • Hellen Frances says

      Yes Debbie,

      I surely do relate! And Drew, thanks very much for the post! I Googled: ‘Procrastination and Painting’, your page came up–and it is helpful to see that others find themselves in my state and work towards solutions.

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