If you’re anything like me or the rest of the human race, you have put things off that in theory you would want to do. Yet the time to act is never right now. You haven’t decided when. Even if you did know when, then we have to figure out how. Trying to move an idea from imagination to completion is really tough!
I always tell friends or even strangers that I’m waiting for my roommate, Lamont Montgomery, to do all the things. Lamont doesn’t wash dishes, load laundry, or vacuum. Laziest roommate ever, I lament. I’m not doing it until he does! Unfortunately for both of us, Lamont is just my Cabbage Patch kid that I’ve had since I was a child.
“Procrastinate now, don’t put it off.”
The story starts in the boom of the 80s. My mom wanted to get the uber-popular toy for her three kids. Sold out everywhere, she took advantage of a local bank that traded the toys in exchange for opening a bank account for kids. In all these decades since, he doesn’t have much to say for himself. No matter how long I wait, nothing seems to get done. Maybe a few of these tips could help me and Lamont out?
Write it all down, don’t memorize
DON’T be too quick to judge your ideas as good, bad, or impossible.
DO write thoughts in the most convenient way possible.
In one of the most popular productivity books out there – Getting Things Done, David Allen sets forth the basic principle of productivity: Write it down. Rather than stewing in worry, find a place to write all things down. We can make it a habit of writing down the next step rather than worrying. The “next step” is a doable task.
Write your task where ever it makes sense. It might be on your calendar, on your to-do list, just in a strip of notes. I keep endless notes in the “cloud” using Google Tasks and an Android app. I save all articles, thoughts, and titles that come to mind. When I sit down to paint or draw, I already have all of my ideas ready for me to act. This isn’t the time when we ask if an idea is important, good, or bad. I keep track of the terrible ideas as much as I do with the good ones. That’s something I can figure out in the next steps.
Lamount doesn’t write things down. I can’t solely blame him when I know he has the memory of a doll. He’ll never be able to get anything done. Your memory is only slightly better than a doll’s.
“Rename your “To-Do” list to your “Opportunities” list. Each day is a treasure chest filled with limitless opportunities; take joy in checking many off your list.”
Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You
Procrastinate, don’t procrastinate
DON’T deny your tendencies to procrastinate.
DO procrastinate on one task by doing another on your list.
“If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it,” John Perry wrote in his 1995 online essay Structured Procrastination. “However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely, and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.”
I’ve definitely found this to be true. The path of least resistance for washing dishes, cleaning, or vacuuming is when I’m running late to work. I’m most productive at work when I’m trying to leave work and get to the gym. I get the most blogging done when I placed my podcast at the top of my list. We can exploit this idea just by making our top priorities the lesser tasks. If I made vacuuming every morning a priority, my procrastinating brain will tell me to get out of the house that much faster.
Except for time spent on meditation practice, it’s not true that you’re not sitting around doing nothing. Place the least important tasks and the smallest as the top priority on your to-do list. Plan to watch a few YouTube videos. Give yourself time to read on the internet. Apparently, you’ve already found time to do this by reading my blog, so thanks for that. Imagine that you’re procrastinating on those tasks, too. Either you’ll get a lot of quick dusting done, or you might just finally get to painting your next masterpiece.
Sure, I’m procrastinating on that talk I need to have with Lamount Montgomery (about how are rent is due and how he is not contributing). In that time, I might as well get some of my artwork done or at least sketch a little.
“Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It’s a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning, and you reach the point where you have to write.”
Work together, not alone
DON’T just get help, be a helper yourself.
DO include others in your creative process.
This is often a difficult idea for the most creative souls. We get so used to doing tasks on our own. Get support from others in your network. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition, sometimes we’ll work alone and other times we collaborate. We don’t exist in a vacuum. It’s frequently appropriate to seek criticism, ask friends to remind us, or just reach out and talk about our work. The point of productivity is to both keep moving forward and hopefully finish tasks. Build in ways to take care of each other, and both give and receive help freely.
As much as I enjoy waiting for Lamont Montgomery’s help with my chores, it typically makes a lot more sense to just take care of things myself and relieve my Cabbage Patch roommate of the pressure.
“He who sees a need and waits to be asked for help is as unkind as if he had refused it.”
Plan it out, don’t wing it, except when you’re improvising
DON’T create steps without goals and guidelines.
DO plan to deviate from your plan.
While flying by the seat of our pants is a huge part of the process, giving it some structure actually helps! How do you color outside of the lines without knowing where the lines are? (tweet this) Set deadlines and make outlines. Let’s say I was typing a blog post. Which I am currently doing, coincidentally enough. It helps to brainstorm a few short phrases on the main ideas, organize them, and then fill in the blanks. Sure, when I research, read, and type it often turns out my initial assumptions were wrong. Making mistakes and successfully failing is where true innovation comes from. We can’t solve problems unless we have problems.
It would be naive of me if I decide to wait for whenever Lamont is ready. I know him well enough to trust that he won’t stick to any schedule I set up. Fool me once, Lamont Montgomery. Fool me once. As much as I’d love for the sun to set at midnight and for a doll to do all things for me, it makes more sense to allow for that possibility and plan accordingly.
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
And yeah, I procrastinated on writing a post about productivity and instead just wrote a passive-aggressive letter to my roommate. I don’t expect him to ever learn. I can only hope these ideas will help you experiment with how you look at productivity.
Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.