In a wonderfully sweet profile of me, Akira and Dipika [also mentioned in my last blog post] over at Orangutan Swing called me a “tornado… [with] enormous energy.” But like most artist-tornadoes, I am terrifically inefficient. Confession time: I procrastinate.
When I am in full-on procrastination mode I still look busy. In fact, I look more busy than when I am making legitimate headway on my goals. I answer a lot of emails. A LOT. I shadowbox and jump rope a lot. A LOT. I go on a lot of coffee dates with my collaborators. A LOT. I read. A LOT. I research other bloggers and amp up my Twitter presence. I vacuum, iron, cook, dust, reorganize… See, I’m BUSY.
I do everything except the important tasks like updating my website which is in desperate need of a facelift, finally finishing the corporate presentation that I have been working on for four months, or actually creating the outline of my non-fiction book that keeps rumbling around my brain.
Important tasks require creative thought, so we tend to avoid them when we feel drained.
This week, I got tired of cowardly avoiding my seriously important tasks. So I buckled down and completed the website redesign [Ta-da!], one guest post, two interviews which will be posted next week, and spent hours on my own creative writing.
Here is my fool-proof system for getting my a$$ in gear and ready to ship*:
Step 1: Turn off the TV.
The thought of this makes me feel like George Michael too… I have a bad habit of turning on my favorite tv shows as background noise during my “BUSY” periods.
When you need to actually think, turn off the static so your brain can start speaking to you.
Step 2: Prioritize.
Look at your to-do list. [If you don’t have a to-do list, spend 10 minutes and brain dump every single thing you keep telling yourself that you are going to do onto a single sheet of paper.]
Circle the two most important things. “Important” things are not necessarily the ones that are mandated by someone else. Often the “important” tasks are the creative soul-affirming ones that we don’t allow ourselves to do because we are “too busy” or the ones that terrify us because of their complexity. If the thought of doing that task makes you shiver in terror or excitement, circle it. You’ll feel better either way.
Write your two tasks on a piece of scrap paper. And now stop looking at your to-do list.
Now all you have to do are two things. That’s not so bad!
Step 3: Change your work space.
My studio sat empty for three weeks before I finally got up the courage to move my computer in there. My work table and pencils give off the vibe of “Get it done!” so when avoiding important or thoughtful tasks, I work on the couch. In front of the tv.
Set yourself up at coffee shop or random table that is completely empty — no piles, no to-do lists, nothing. Just you and your computer (or your typewriter, or your sketchbook, or your instrument, etc).
Step 4: Only work on your two tasks.
No Facebook status updates, no answering emails, no seeing if you can convince the little birds to talk to you like they talk to Snow White.
Before you know it, those two little tasks will be done, and you’ll be left wondering why you avoided them for so long!
Step 5: Reward yourself.
Now leave your workspace, and don’t think about your to-do list again until tomorrow! Go meet up with friends or take a long walk or read a book or punch things or hold some babies or watch an episode of Arrested Development.
Rinse and repeat.
… And now my two item to-do list is done! Which means I will be rewarding myself with a looooong boxing training session and finishing “The Best of Catherine, Caffeinated.” [Confession time #2: I found Catherine Ryan Howard by Googling my own name. She’s awesome.]
Looking for more suggestions? Check out Paid to Exist’s “Seven Counterintuitive Ways to Be Insanely Productive.” for another perspective.