A Procrastinator's Guide To Getting More Art Done
We ingeniously come up with reasons not to draw. The lighting is bad today. I don't have the right pens. I need a new sketchbook. I need to do the laundry. I have to attend a friend's birthday, etc. We don't even realise we are procrastinating until hours have passed and we are staring at the deadline.
The funny thing is that I am procrastinating as I write about the issue of procrastination...
As a kid, I was a chronic procrastinator. I always turned in my assignments late or did them the night before the due date. I would get easily overwhelmed and do my best to avoid the uncomfortable feelings of tackling a new or difficult project.
Those old feelings of overwhelm came rushing back in as I have recently been trying to create a YouTube channel. I often find myself lost in space, holding the camera but not doing anything. Sometimes I watch YouTube videos on what I am trying to master and convince myself I am learning. But the reality is that I am procrastinating; I am avoiding using my knowledge and getting started on the project.
Putting things off is a common plight we have all faced at some point. Procrastination is a uniquely sticky issue for creatives and artists. We can often feel overwhelmed, confused and creatively blocked. So we tend to postpone, neglect or avoid doing tasks.
We often avoid engaging in our passions out of the anxiety of not being brilliant, intelligent, talented or good enough.
Luckily these behaviours are not permanent. We can unlearn such behaviour by understanding what is causing us to procrastinate and adjusting our behaviour accordingly.
Here are a few things I have learnt about what causes procrastination and how, as artists, we can avoid it.
Why do artists tend to procrastinate?
Fear of judgement
As artists, the work we share is a representation of who we are; this can be a vulnerable experience for some people. The fear of being judged harshly often causes many creative people to procrastinate and delay their work rather than face their fears about not being excellent.
If you are a perfectionist, you might set a high bar of accomplishment. You fear that you will not meet those standards. This dread is due to the thought that failure to achieve highly might reveal something negative or flawed in yourself. This mentality can leave people feeling paralysed and lost. So instead of learning new skills and making mistakes, we'd rather avoid them altogether.
Lack of skill
Mastering art and drawing are skills that can be very challenging. As beginners, we are inept, awkward and graceless at whatever we are trying to learn.
If a creative project requires learning new skills, artists might procrastinate because they feel overwhelmed by the amount of work or don't know where or how to start. Learning something new can be difficult; we might even stop when there is a steep learning curve to avoid failing.
As mentioned earlier, I am still working on my obsession with YouTube, which robs hours of my working time. I realise that I am one of many people who have formed a bad habit of distracting themselves when a difficult task is at hand. For you, it might be checking your phone, answering emails or doing the dishes. It's easier to replace a complex task with something that is not as difficult. So we trick ourselves into thinking we are productive.
Additionally, most of us work with easy access to social media, email, and our phones. Our devices are both a way to get work done and a way to be distracted.
I think we all have experienced these symptoms at some point or another.
If you struggle with perfectionism and procrastination with your art, consider signing up for my art newsletter. I cover tips to help you overcome fear and doubt and build a robust artistic mindset.
But I am sure you want to know...
How to overcome procrastination?
Notice your procrastination triggers
Does your work bore you or make you anxious? Negative emotions tend to make us avoid tasks. Determine what emotions are the cause of your procrastination.
Your thought patterns may be to blame if you are disciplined in some areas but struggle in others. Perhaps you had a negative parent, so you always feel like you are a failure. Maybe you have memories from the past that trigger procrastination in the present.
If you feel that a task bores you, you could set a reward for yourself for completing it. If it makes you anxious, make small levels of progress until you feel more comfortable doing it.
Break your work down
Make a list of smaller tasks that make up the project. Tackle one subtask at a time. Focus on what you can get done rather than the looming task.
To prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed and getting stuck at the beginning, start by identifying the first few actions you need to take. Once you get going, you will find it is easier to get through the entire thing.
Take it slow
We underestimate the value of chipping away at a task slowly. You would be more likely to tackle a little bit at a time. It's like conditioning yourself for an endurance race.
Set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on the task at hand. Get some work done in a short time slot; take a 5-minute break and return to it. Eventually, you will get into the flow and probably won't need a timer. The Pomodoro technique is one that I find helpful to get me started.
Our phones and desktops can be very distracting when all our fun apps and websites are easily accessible. I put my phone away in a drawer throughout the workday. This prevents me from browsing through social media every time I start to procrastinate.
I also use a chrome extension called LeechBlock that has helped with my obsession with checking my email or YouTube. The LeechBlock app helps by blocking or setting a time limit on your use of certain websites. I highly recommend using a similar system too.
I am not a specialist in human behaviour; I am just sharing what I have learnt from my experience. If procrastination is a chronic problem, seek help. Go to a friend who knows you well and can provide support. You can also find a therapist to help you work through issues you might be facing that you are unaware of.
This week I finally managed to wrestle with my procrastination demons and created a blog post. Yes!
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