Staying With It - Momentum Overcomes Procrastination
By Linda Dessau - 03/20/2006 - 11:50 AM EST
In a previous article I mentioned a new credo that I'm working to adopt into my life, and that's to "do one thing (at a time) and do it well".
When I can focus my thoughts, efforts and energies on that ONE thing (at a time), I'm much more productive and I enjoy my work (or play, or learning) much more. - From "The Magic of Storytelling" by Linda Dessau.
Today I'm going to discuss two phases of the creative process – inspiration and implementation – and how to maximize momentum in each phase.
When we procrastinate, we fuel our inner critic's statements that, "You're no good", "You can't do it" and "You'll never finish it". We provide evidence that those messages are true, and we sink a little lower in our seats and a little father away from our passion.
When we gain momentum in the creative flow, however, quite the opposite occurs. We create evidence that, "I AM good!" "I CAN do it!" and then, "I finished!"
Two Phases of Creative Expression
The Inspiration Phase
My most creative time is when I wake up in the morning. Without even consciously trying I am visited by countless ideas, solutions to yesterday's problems, ideas for future projects and other gems.
Momentum carries me before my inner critic is awake enough to stop it.
Sometimes in the inspiration phase, I can consciously harness the momentum. I plant a problem to be solved, and then just open myself up to my muse and let the floodgates pour open.
In fact, I did that when I wrote this article. I knew I wanted to get started on writing, but I didn't know what I wanted to write about. So I got quiet for a moment until the topic settled in my mind – "momentum". Then I consciously focused my attention on the topic, with a blank sheet of paper and a pen nearby.
I drafted the structure of the article as I went on with my morning chores.
So the first step of the process – the inspiration – was complete.
But the article wasn't.
Here's where we sometimes get stumped in the process - when it's time to sit down and actually carry out our inspiration. Here's where the "work" comes in. Here's where we have to "crank it out", keep at it; the ongoing, sometimes monotonous task of completing something that we've started.
We prefer to stay in the land of inspiration. Where we can just picture the fruits of our labors, the perfect implementation of our creative ideas, without actually having to work at it.
Does this mean that we're lazy? Well, sometimes, but I don't think that's the point. It's recognizing the different creative energies that are used in the inspiration phase versus the implementation phase.
Most of us don't consciously procrastinate when it comes to inspiration. We may not make enough time or space in our lives to be open to inspiration, but we don't usually consciously block it out. Nor could we!
The Implementation Phase
Implementation, however, is another story.
In the implementation phase, procrastination, distraction and lack of focus can all disrupt creative flow and stop momentum to the point where we have to build it up again from scratch.
Have you ever heard the theory that it's easier to re-write than to write? Do you agree? Why do you think that is?
Re-writing is easier because we've got something to work with, something to sink our teeth into. Getting something onto that blank page, though, can be much more difficult.
That's why staying with one thing, until it's done, is such an effective method. We expend a huge amount of time and energy building up momentum on a writing project; getting reacquainted with the original inspiration, getting ideas about structure and form, playing ideas off each other, and gaining a true level of intimacy with the work.
Every time we break away from that, whether it's to answer the phone, get up to stretch, or check on incoming email messages, we lose a little bit of that momentum. Sometimes even as I'm researching a current project, the nature of the Internet (remember it's nicknamed, "the web") means it can be several minutes or longer before I get back into the flow again.
Here are five strategies that I use to get my momentum going, in order to get and stay in the creative flow.
1. Future Projects File. What sometimes will scatter our attention are new ideas that pop into our heads. This is both in the inspiration phase and in the implementation phase. Any thoughts or ideas that compete with the one we're actually trying to work on are going to take us out of the momentum of creative flow.
We can get caught up in these thoughts for a couple of reasons. One is that, as I mentioned earlier, it's more fun to be in the "potential" then the "actual". But the other reason is that we may have a legitimate concern that we'll forget the new idea before we get the chance to come back to it.
So I make sure to keep a file dedicated to future project ideas, as well as plenty of scrap paper, so I can quickly capture the essence of the idea. I'm careful not to get into the implementation phase, because that will just take me farther away from the project at hand.
2. Check the desire level for this project. Sometimes when we're procrastinating it's for a good reason. Maybe we've outgrown the current project and it's not one that we're interested in any more. Maybe it's something we thought we "should" take on, but the decision wasn't motivated by our own creative drive.
When you're tempted to let go of a creative project, see which of these scenarios is most true:
1. I still really want to do it, but I feel afraid – afraid to fail, afraid to succeed, afraid to share my work with others or afraid to claim my identity as an artist.
2. I want to have finished the project, I just don't want to work on the project.
3. I really don't want to do the project anymore, and I feel completely calm and at peace with the decision to let it go.
In case #3, you can comfortably let go of the project and move on to something you DO want to do.
In case #2, you can try and apply the suggestions I've put together here, to harness your momentum and push through the procrastination.
In case #1, you can try to reconnect with your original passion for the project or you can talk to other artists about these fears and how they've handled similar situations. Knowing that you're conquering a fear can add even more fuel to your fire, and more momentum to your work.
3. Have simple and efficient working systems. Painter Robert Genn recently wrote about "economy of means" in his Twice-Weekly letter for creative artists.
He suggests that we be on the lookout for time-wasters such as looking for materials, preparing materials or generally over-complicating things.
Technology can be a huge time-saver, but wrestling with it can also be a huge time-waster. If you run into a technological barrier during your creative work time, try switching to a "low tech" strategy in the moment, and then using another less creative time of day to deal with solving the problem or getting technical support.
Simplicity and efficiency are important in the implementation phase, as well. In order to receive messages from your muse, your mind needs to be clear of cluttering thoughts about what's on your grocery list or what you wished you said differently to your friend on the phone last night.
In both phases of the creative process, every time a thought or action threatens our momentum, we need ask, "Is this important right now?"
4. Get support from others. To prime your inspiration phase, spend lots of time with people who inspire and support you, and little (if any) time with people who don't.
You can also pull in that inspiration while you're working to generate ideas, by looking at pictures, quotes, cards and letters that remind you of those connections.
In the implementation phase, if you're really struggling to get at it or stay with it, try pulling in a supportive friend or family member. Ask them to receive a phone call from you, at the top of every hour, when you can check in with your progress.
Even if you simply leave them a voicemail message, this can be a huge motivator to stay on track.
5. When all else fails, just start. In my other writings about procrastination, I've talked about the 15-minute method. This is where you set a timer for fifteen-minutes and tell yourself you only have to do this task until the timer goes off. If you're really having trouble getting started, try this method. Then use the other four strategies to stay with it.
As I practice the credo of "do one thing (at a time) and do it well", I'm gaining more and more evidence that, for me, this approach allows me to use momentum to enter and STAY in the creative flow.
And once I'm in that state of flow, procrastination is a dim memory.
© Linda Dessau, 2006.
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