Get It Done
From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day
By Sam Bennett
New World Library Copyright © 2014 Samantha Bennett
All rights reserved.
Procrastination Is Genius in Disguise
Have you ever noticed that procrastination causes you pain? It hurts your heart, it hurts your self-esteem, it hurts your relationships, it hurts your career, and it hurts your income. And just as a pain in your body alerts you to something that needs healing, the psychic pain of procrastination can serve as an important wake-up call. That is why I call procrastination genius in disguise.
If procrastination didn't hurt, then you could put stuff off and then just la-di-da around all carefree and happy. But that's not the way it works — when you put off your projects, they become a weight on your mind and your heart.
So why is that genius?
Because the pain caused by procrastination reminds you that your projects are important to you. Procrastination is your friend, tapping you on the shoulder and saying, "Hey, remember that idea you had? Remember how much you cared about it?" And pretty soon that voice is not just gently urging — it's nagging. Loudly.
So now you have a project that you know matters to you, and I'm going to guess it's mattered to you for a long time. After all this time, you are still thinking about it. It hasn't fallen away like some-things do — which is great news. The truth is, procrastination is persistent desire.
When your desire for a project stands the test of time, you can take that as a sign that your project truly is part of your life's calling.
What's Kept You from Moving Forward?
You've got a great idea that you know would make a difference in the world and it's stood the test of time so ... what's the holdup? Why haven't you moved forward?
In my experience, there are three main reasons for getting stuck in procrastination.
Got Stuckified Reason 1: You Genuinely Don't Care about It
Maybe this project is really someone else's dream — a dream that your family or community placed on you — or maybe it's an old dream that you've outgrown.
Or perhaps it's something you think you should do. I call these "shadow goals." They look like goals, they sound like goals, but when you think about them they make you glum. Good goals are filled with energy and purpose — they may not always be fun, but they always contain some sense of joy. Shadow goals contain no joy but rather are burdened with guilt, ill feeling, futility, and even a bit of hopelessness.
For example, maybe you're telling yourself something like, "I should really go and get my master's degree." Chances are that if you have this idea and are not acting on it, you don't really care about a master's; you care about whatever you think having a master's will gain you: "If I got my master's in film I could write that screenplay I've had in my head." I say skip the master's and go directly to writing the screenplay.
It's also possible that you have outgrown this dream. It may be that while the fourteen-year-old version of you really wanted to be a rock star, the forty-four-year-old version doesn't actually care that much for the spotlight. If you are a sentimental person, you may feel it's unduly harsh to give up this particular project, because it may feel as though you are giving up on your dream. Allowing your old dreams to grow and change to better suit your true, current self is both practical and wise. Or to think of it another way, you wouldn't put your fourteen-year-old self in charge of your other life decisions now, would you?
Got Stuckified Reason 2: It Just Hasn't Been the Right Time
Maybe it hasn't been the right time because of life circumstances, such as a new baby in the family or a health issue or a financial crisis. Or maybe it hasn't been the right time because you haven't been ready. Maybe you've had life lessons to learn or some spiritual maturity to attain.
Or maybe it's that mysterious right-moment thing that people bring up when you're looking for the perfect life partner. "When the time is right, he/she will show up," those well-meaning people say. Irritating. Even more irritating, they are often correct.
Or maybe you've needed to wait for some technology to be invented, or you've needed to wait for the right people or the right partner. But whatever the reason: it just hasn't been the right time. And I know that for a fact because if it had been the right time, you would have done it.
After all, look at all the things you've accomplished. You're no slacker. You work hard, and you're so tenacious that others have probably expressed concern about your tenacity.
Got Stuckified Reason 3: You're a Little Bit Scared
Or a lot scared. To which I say, "Well, of course you're scared!"
Creating art is scary. Starting any new venture is scary. And putting your heartfelt work out into the world is downright terrifying. Anybody who claims otherwise is a big, fat liar. People tell me every day about the projects they're stuck on, and they are doozies. Here's a sample of some of the projects people have told me about:
Writing a memoir
Clearing up personal financials
Relearning quantum physics
Getting certified in a healing modality, such as massage, Reiki, Emotional Freedom Technique, or spiritual psychology
Balancing parenthood and art
Orchestrating a live event or conference
Getting a pilot's license
Living one's highest purpose
Doing stand-up comedy
Clearing out a parent's house
Staying in touch with friends and colleagues
Growing a business
Finding true happiness
Writing a book proposal
This is some big, life-changing stuff, and it's no surprise that it hits your panic button and makes you want to run and hide like a little kid.
I Know What I Need to Do — I Just Can't Make Myself Do It
Here's an example of the kind of letter I frequently receive from my clients:
I know what I need to do, I just can't make myself do it. I watch endless YouTube videos, I play computer solitaire, I fool around on Facebook — I even scrub my kitchen floors — all just to avoid the work that I know is my destiny. I get so mad at myself. Am I chasing a shadow goal? What do I do? — Elizabeth
Here's what I would say to Elizabeth, and to you, since chances are fairly high you are dealing with the same concerns:
Rest easy, honey — you are merely suffering from a biological imperative called "displacement activity." Displacement activity is what happens when an animal is in the grip of two conflicting instincts, and so it enacts a third, seemingly inappropriate behavior.
For example, you've probably seen a chimpanzee being challenged by another chimpanzee. When the first chimp doesn't know whether to run away or fight, he might scratch his head ... yawn ... look away ... start grooming himself. Seems like a very passive response to aggression, but that chimp will do anything to deflect the energy, avoid making a decision, and otherwise make himself as invisible as possible.
When you have the instinct to create and you simultaneously have the instinct not to create, your fear says, "Don't do it!" And so, confused by these two equally strong instincts, you shut down and get stuck playing an online word game for hours on end.
It doesn't mean you have low self-esteem, and it doesn't mean your dream is impossible, and it certainly doesn't mean you're lazy. So the next time this happens, just recognize the dynamic without yelling at yourself. "Ah," you might say instead, "I appear to be having the instinct to create something. And I also find myself feeling afraid of what will happen if I create that thing. Perfectly natural. But my fear does not get to make my decisions for me. So I will now set my kitchen timer for fifteen minutes and just play around with my creative idea in a light, fun, beta-testing sort of a way and then see what happens."
And that's what this book is all about — giving you the loving encouragement you need to move forward. And maybe a little loving thwack upside the head.
We'll talk more in the next chapter about how to choose the right project, but here's a good shorthand tip: If you have lots and lots of ideas, you may want to pick one using the same method some people use to pay off their credit cards. That is, either pick the one that's closest to being done and finish that one, or pick the one that has the highest "interest" rate and finish that one.
Fifty years from now, the details that you are worrying about will not matter one whit. But the art you create, the novel you write, the doll you sew, the dance you perform, the photograph you take — that will still be making a difference in the world.
Spend fifteen minutes right now playing around with your favorite project.
Which of Your Thirty-Seven Projects to Tackle First?
You have so many great ideas, and you can't decide which one(s) to follow through on. Or maybe once you finally settle on one and get into it, you get bored and drop it like a hot potato for something new. I know.
One of the side effects of being a creative genius is that you have a billion great ideas and a lot of skills and talents, so it can be difficult to figure out where to focus. This is so often what happens: You get a brilliant idea. It appears instantly — so full and rich and detailed and vibrant inside your mind — and you just know it's a truly great idea.
And then — just as quickly — you feel stuck, overwhelmed, defeated. You have no idea how to move forward. Thinking about the thing in its entirety is just too overwhelming, so you get stuck before you've even started.
Here's the thing: your brain is a beautiful machine especially designed to look for patterns and solve problems. It works like a charm. Pose almost any question to your brain, and it will present you with an answer in no time at all. Genius, I tell you.
But if there are too many unknowns or too many variables, the machine grinds to a halt. Or it gets stuck in a loop, going around the same block over and over again. "I want to do X, but maybe I should do Y first, but I can't do that until I do Z, so maybe I shouldn't even try ... but I really want to do X, but maybe I should do Y first ..." Exhausting, right?
Breaking It Down
Let's say your big, beautiful idea is "I want to redo the whole house!" And you can see it! Gorgeous and gleaming. A full, rich, detailed vision of your house completely redecorated appears in your mind.
In this situation some people recommend creating a Vision Board, which I think is fun because I love gluing things onto other things. A Vision Board is a fun, artsy, self-actualization project — it's a collage you can make of images and words, usually cut from magazines, that, posted prominently, serves as a visual reminder of your goals and dreams. You can also make one online, which is fun, too. And if a Vision Board helps or delights or inspire you, then go ahead. But artists usually have no problem articulating a clear vision. Their vision is usually quite detailed and complete and often features sequels, theme parks, and a worldwide grassroots social movement.
As you consider this beautiful vision of your redone home, you feel the gears in your mind begin to grind: Where to begin? How to afford it? Is now the right time? How do I know if a contractor is trustworthy? What if the paint comes out ugly? Where do I find those cool glass tiles? I don't know how to tile! Ack!
Too many unknowns and too many variables.
So if you can limit the scope of your project — take it bit by bit — you will be doing your brain a big favor. Tackling, say, just the carpeting in the upstairs bedroom will allow your brain to start searching its files for carpet in the same way that your computer can search for and find information easily once you give it the right name or search term. And now that your brain is whirring away on the idea of carpet, it might just remember that there's a carpet store over by the lunch place you like, and it might remember that your cousin Denise just redid her house — and maybe she'll have a few ideas for you — and hey, is that an ad for a carpet sale in today's paper?
Breaking your project down into manageable, bite-size bits makes it something you can actually do, as opposed to leaving it a big, overwhelming, untouchable vision that leaves you stuck. Think of it this way: If you find yourself procrastinating, your project is too big!
You can see how you might be able to make some real progress if you break you projects down into smaller chunks and spend a little time on them every day, yes? But this still leaves you with the all-important question, How do you know which project is the right one?
For starters, you have to discern which of the projects matter most to you, and ditch the ones that don't. Here's a little quiz-type exercise that will help you do that.
EXERCISE: FIVE QUICK QUESTIONS
Call to mind one of the many projects you are procrastinating on. I know you have lots, but for now, pick just one. Whichever one floats to the top of your mind first is fine.
Now — working swiftly and without pondering — answer yes, no, or sort of to these five questions:
1. Do you think you will learn from and enjoy working on this project?
2. Will completing this project make a difference in your life?
3. Will completing this project make a difference in the world?
4. Does your soul ache to work on it?
5. Ten years from now, will it matter whether or not you have done it?
Take a minute to muse on your answers, and jot down a few notes about what you notice. You may have noticed that those five questions are really one question, phrased five different ways — five different angles of attack on "Does this project truly matter?"
You may find that while you feel your project would make a big difference in the world, your soul does not ache to do it. That's okay. And that's important information for you to have if you decide to move forward: don't expect this project to make your soul sing. You may need to find some other spiritual sustenance while you're working on it.
Or perhaps you answered yes to every question but the first — that might be an indication that you need to find someone else, or gather a team, to execute this project.
But if you discovered that the project you were thinking about really doesn't matter to you, then for crying out loud — cross that project off your list or delegate it or something. There's no sense agonizing over a project you don't even care about.
Now think of another possible project, and repeat the exercise. In fact, repeat it until you have five possible projects that definitely matter to you. Feel free to pull projects from various areas of your life; this doesn't need to all be about your creativity. It's always a good idea to try it with at least one really crazy-daisy, dumb idea — even something you think is a bad idea. And you may also want to add in some "duty" options (like the voice in your head that says that you really should go back to school and get that advanced degree).
So now you have a list of five front-runner projects. Congratulations!
Your Pure Preference
One way to figure out which of these five projects to work on first is to determine your Pure Preference. Your Pure Preference is that which you really want to do. Desire is the gas in your creative tank. So getting in touch with that desire is the key to discerning your perfect project. To help you do just that, I have designed the Pure Preference worksheet (a.k.a. "You Cannot Chase Two Bunnies"). Before I describe the exercise further, I want to share some stories of clients who have used it.
Your Pure Preference is the project you would choose if money and time were no object, if your results were guaranteed, and if you knew for sure that no one's feelings would get hurt in the process. So now, without further ado, let us plunge into using this wonderful exercise.
EXERCISE: YOUR PURE PREFERENCE, A.K.A. "YOU CANNOT CHASE TWO BUNNIES"
At first glance, this exercise might seem a little complicated because of the numbers, but trust me, it's very simple and there's almost no math involved.
It uses what's known as a paired-comparison analysis, a great tool for sorting through a bunch of different options or for comparing apples to oranges. It is a delightfully subjective process, so don't try to think of all the "right" answers. Feel free to surprise yourself. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Get It Done by Sam Bennett. Copyright © 2014 Samantha Bennett. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.