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Who hasn’t fallen victim to one’s own hubris with the clock? Errors await, obstacles sneak in, and before you know it, the midnight deadline has passed, and after a quiet “Damn it” spoken to yourself, you swear you’ll never cut it that close to the wire again.
But you do.
We all do.
We procrastinate on starting projects, fulfilling deadlines, and try our hardest to cram it all in during the 11th hour. Procrastination handicaps our progress, hurts our performance, sabotages our goals, and blocks us from achieving the success we dream about.
It’s about choice, decision, and self discipline. To break this cycle, you have to self regulate your actions, manage your time, and develop a different lifestyle.
All boring stuff, right?
Let’s look at the chemical make up of our laziness.
Physiologically, our brain’s frontal lobes are what triggers the urgency to accomplish and get our to-do list done, and our more addictive leisurely tendencies lie towards the back of the brain in the limbic system. We experience a mild anxiety response from our frontal lobes, when coupled with fear, sends survival signals to the brain and inversely makes us crave what feels good instead of what doesn’t. Usually that good feeling means leisure over work, which keeps us on the couch watching old reruns of 30 Rock.
Many times we postpone projects based on these uncomfortable feelings of fearing the project will fail, anxiety towards anticipated challenges along the project’s way, and the uncertain insecurity that the project’s outcome will be imperfect.
These feelings convince us that our project is so overwhelming, we don’t even know where to start.
So how do we change that?
Develop a lifestyle and be cognitive about your projects, and make the decision to start the next step on your piece. Planning goals, and splitting a giant overwhelming piece into smaller steps and smaller goals will help you get into the habit of attacking a project. You may find yourself feeling more satisfied when achieving and completing these smaller steps, thus reinforcing productive behavior. Plan for distractions, obstacles, errors, and failures. Sounds easy, right?...
But seriously. How DO we change that?
Try planning backwards. When we look at a calendar, we look forward and ahead, so it seems like we have more time than we don’t. I propose you take that same calendar and look backwards instead of forwards.
Here’s what I mean.
Let’s take your overwhelming project and break it up into pieces, smaller goals, and steps with a 2-3 day period assigned to accomplish each step. With those days, add them to your calendar in reverse, starting from the deadline.
Let’s say a deadline for submissions is January 31st.
On the calendar:
Mark January 29th as the deadline (to allow for unforeseen computer problems).
Mark January 26th as the deadline for taking pictures (to allow time for photoshop corrections i.e. cropping, file format changes, etc.).
Mark January 23rd as the actual deadline to have the piece polished, finished etc.
Mark January 22nd as the deadline for pickling, sawing, and grinding sprues (to allow for pesky solder problems).
Mark January 19th as the deadline to cast.
Mark January 16th as the deadline for the carved wax to be finished and cleaned.
Mark January 10th as the deadline to make the wax positive.
Mark January 5th as the deadline to make the mold.
Mark January 1st as the deadline to finish the prototype.
Mark December 28th as the deadline for conceiving of and sketching out my idea.
LAST AVAILABLE START DATE: December 26th.
I know my process doesn't take 35 days to produce a piece, but by setting a last available start date, once the 26th hits and every day after, I'll mentally feel the pressure to stop procrastinating and start doing. Obviously not everyone takes the above steps for a piece, but it's easy to tweak it to your process. You know better than anyone how many steps your process takes, and how long each step takes to fulfill.
Doesn’t take you that long to make a piece? Great! You’ll feel more accomplished and proud when you meet step by step deadlines before their respective deadlines approach. If you find yourself meeting deadlines ahead of time every time, you’ll engrain a more efficient production rhythm and procrastination, unnecessary stress, and guilt won’t enter your head. You’ll have broken the routine and succeeded.
Here’s a great slideshow on planning backwards:
CLICK ON THIS LINK.
This link is the portal to procrastination knowledge.
For those that feel they work best under pressure with a small time constraint, or is most stimulated under a sense of urgency, think of a reason to push up the deadline. It has to be a valid reason though, one that will trick and convince your brain into believing it’s the last possible day to get your project finished. For example, If your deadline is the 31st, purposely buy tickets to a concert for the 30th, thus pushing your deadline up to the 29th, and forcing you to feel that time pressured stimulus to start the project earlier. Maybe you’ll be less likely to skip out on those concert plans if you’ve already plopped down money for tickets. And what a great way to reward yourself for finishing the project two days before the actual deadline.
Procrastinators unconsciously find distractions to postpone their projects and obligations.
I’ve learned that I’m the type of artist that is easily distracted, and over time I’ve objectively watched my actions to physically remove distractions like television, gaming, etc. When I find myself placing my dog in the tub, I take a moment, ask myself why, and end up heading back to my bench. I sit with the fear and anxiety about my project until the fear subsides, which only takes a few minutes, and then dive back into work.
Once you’ve gotten into the routine of being ahead of deadline and on a roll, keep that routine until it feels natural. Do that with your big picture. Remember the big picture legacy you saw yourself in from earlier posts? Metaphorically replace your overwhelming project with your big picture, and replace the small project steps leading up to the finished piece with step by step accomplishments that lead up to your big picture legacy.
Even if you don’t start today, you’re still in good company.
“If I had not been so determined to set to work, I might have made an effort to start at once. But given that my resolve was unbreakable, given that within twenty-four hours, inside the empty frame of tomorrow where everything fitted so perfectly because it was not today, my best intentions would easily take material shape, it was really preferable not to think of beginning things on an evening when I was not quite ready - and of course the following days were to be no better suited to beginning things. However, I was a reasonable person. When one had waited for years, it would be childish not to tolerate a delay of a couple of days... Unfortunately, tomorrow turned out not to be that broad, bright, outward-looking day that I had feverishly looked forward to.”
And if all else fails, be like Mike- Just Do It.