How to cope with procrastination in the creative process?

Having read that September 6 is Fight Procrastination Day, I remembered (what an irony of fate!) that a few weeks earlier I’d started a how-to article about ways to combat procrastination. I don't think there’s a greater motivation to finish writing the text... Moreover, if you’re just starting to read it, it means only one thing – my mission has been successful, and that’s the best advertisement for this material.

You may be familiar with this scene from a film: the cursor glances ominously at the protagonist, who should be writing the next chapter of a book or an important article, but despite his best intentions, the cursor is far from willing to move forward, leaving a trail of words of wisdom behind it. I’m at a similar point right now. Happily for the protagonist (and promisingly for me), there’s usually something, some event, a kind of catharsis or awakening that results in the creation of an extraordinary piece of work. If you’re reading this now, you’re probably struggling with the aforementioned block. How to move on? Let’s find out together.

Still based on your experiences, let me ask: do you know that feeling when you want to do something – you really want to get it over with, but some strange force prevents you from doing it? What you feel is the seeds of a relationship with procrastination or at least the phenomenon that is often referred to as it.

Procrastination – what is it?

Is procrastination a nicer word for laziness? Far from it. The subject is more complex, often affecting people who like to perform every task perfectly and worry about even the slightest failure. The term itself refers to a psychological issue that can have a direct impact on the whole lives of those struggling with it. Seen from this angle, it’s something that needs specialist support and therapy. However, I was referring rather to procrastination in colloquial terms, which can be defined as the incomprehensible urge to put off something you have to do.

There are also proponents of the theory according to which you fail to perform a task when you subconsciously don’t want to do it. You find several other things to do and fill your “to do” list with numerous items just to postpone the activity. There’s a chance that the subject will die a natural death, although more often than not, you’ll have to work under time pressure and do the task at an insanely fast pace. And this is where the first piece of advice comes in – make sure your tasks have a due date. Even if nobody gives you a specific deadline, decide for yourself when the task should be done.

Time – your ally or foe?

I’ve recently read about Parkinson's Law. Its author argued that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion, and while this observation was originally meant to apply to bureaucracy, you may find that Parkinson perfectly described your work and mine as well.

I’d like to stress from the outset that I’m absolutely far from encouraging you to work your fingers to the bone exceeding reasonable standards or to work to senselessly tight deadlines, but I do suggest that you properly estimate the time needed to complete your tasks. Let’s plan the various activities that need to be done to close a project. Parkinson claimed that if someone gives you two weeks for a task, it will take you two weeks to complete it, although it’s highly likely that it could be done in just a few days. I’m a living example that this sometimes happens. And it happens so for various reasons. Sometimes it may be a load of tasks, other times it may be that the project at hand isn’t a priority for you, and still others it may be that you don't like something about it, or that the topic doesn't interest you at all, so you’re keen to take the opportunity to put it off. If the problem lies in the last point, I really don't envy you, but the harsh truth is that postponing the completion date won’t make the task suddenly vanish into thin air. That’s why it’s a good idea to consider the already mentioned planning and break the project down into individual tasks with a (realistic) date for completion.

“Done is better than perfect"

  • is the maxim said by Ola Budzyńska, also known as the Mistress of Her Own Time, and it’s hard not to agree with it. Of course, it’s more difficult to put it into practice. Perfectionism is the main cause of procrastination – you want to do something to the best possible standard, and it requires adequate preparation, thought, and time, which we’re usually short of, and so we fall into the trap we set for ourselves. What’s the result? The task doesn’t get completed, and you become a little frustrated because you know that for various reasons you haven’t yet managed to do something. There’s no winner, as far as this approach goes. And this is why it must change.

A job done imperfectly doesn’t mean a sloppy job. It rather means a job done well. If I still haven't managed to make you warm to this approach, imagine that you have a scale and on one side, you put the perfect project, which for now exists only in your mind, and on the other side, you put a project that’s done just well, according to accepted standards, but – most importantly – done. What do you think will be better for you, your colleagues, your company, and your customers – a perfect vision or good implementation? Exactly.

If procrastination strikes, first of all, don't panic and be understanding to yourself. Perhaps your mind just needs some rest, perhaps you need to ask someone for help or properly plan your work on the task, or perhaps it's a good idea to do the task not but without it being as perfect as you'd like this time... Whatever is right for you, I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Good luck!