“As Soon As I’ve Checked My Emails”: Why Artists Procrastinate

The quote in the title (“Just as soon as I’ve checked my Emails”) is from a masterpiece of comedy and storytelling called “Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack adventure”. If you haven’t seen it yet, you really owe it to yourself to do so. Below is a short excerpt with probably the funniest, most accurate description of procrastination ever. Have a look:

Every artists in the world knows this to be true. We’ve all been there, some of us quite frequently. The big question is: Why? How come we find these stupid excuses not to do what we’ve chosen to do? After all, no one makes you become an artist – it’s not like taking out the garbage or doing your taxes. In fact, you’re probably doing it in spite of skeptical friends and family. You should love doing this thing! And yet, here you are looking at yet another cat video on Facebook. Why?

Are procrastinators just lazy?

Many procrastinators think they’re just being lazy. Nothing can be further from the truth. Procrastinators are prepared to work harder than anyone on just about anything they’re not supposed to be doing. They will put in endless hours managing virtual cities, building civilizations or wiping entire squads of virtual enemies. They will diligently search for the funniest content on the web and share it with their fellow procrastinators. They’ll watch bad films all the way to their disappointing ending – sometimes multiple times a day! In short, procrastinators will take on anything, as long as it’s completely unimportant.

Procrastination is not the problem

And therein lies a clue. Ironically, it’s exactly because something is important to you, that you tend to want to get away from it. You simply care too much to take the risk of doing something wrong. So you procrastinate, which is simply another name for doing something you can’t fail at, like taking out the garbage; or that you don’t mind failing at, like playing a computer game. Procrastination is not the problem – it’s a symptom. Fear of failure is the problem. In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”

Trust the process

If this is true, then a good solution for procrastination must somehow take the sting out of failure. The ideal solution would make you feel unable to fail, or else not mind failure so much.

Such a solution exists. It’s called having a structured creative process, and whether they’re aware of it or not, all successful artists have one. The details vary, but it always involves a variety of procedures that turn an intimidating creative challenge into a series of trivial exercises, each allowing failure without harming the work (indeed, some of them are even meant to fail!). A good creative process builds success out of failure; in that sense, it’s literally fail-safe. If you watch my overview lecture ‘structured Chaos’, you can get an idea of how such a process might work.

When you have a creative process you can trust, fear of failure goes away – and so does procrastination.

Author: Doron Mayer

Director, Animator, Writer, Designer. Author of "Workflow: The practical Guide to the Creative Process".

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