I hit the ‘next episode’ button on Netflix (again), or tidy my desk (again) or phone a friend (again) and then I know. I’m procrastinating. And then come the feelings of shame. ‘I should be in the studio for X number of hours a day’. ‘I bet [insert name] is in the studio right now and not watch a third episode of Line of Duty.’ ‘Why am I so lazy?’ So, what would I typically do? I would numb these feelings by watching another episode of some mind numbing TV. Now you may not be a certificated telly addict like me, but there will be certain behaviours you are likely to return to when you are avoiding working. Ebay shopping, housework, Instagram scrolling? I would let this cycle go on for weeks even months but now I have found a system that really helps me get me out of that rut really quickly, and gets me back in the studio doing what I love.
Step 1: Acknowledge you are procrastinating
Accept that you are procrastinating. No judgement, no analysis, no denial, no justification, just acceptance .
Step 2: Observe your thoughts
Underlying procrastination is usually fear. Fear than when we attempt the task in hand that it will be too challenging or even worse we will fail. Often wear are fearful of making new work because we are projecting to the future. A future in which we will be ridiculed or worse, our work will be ignored. Becoming aware of the thoughts that are preventing you from working is the key to overcoming procrastination. Each time we notice these thoughts we become more aware of the pattern of harbouring negative beliefs and the self limiting behaviour that follows. By becoming more aware of this cycle you will recognise these thoughts for what they really are thoughts. nothing more, and each time you notice, you are immediately detached from them.
Step 3: Get up!
This is actually the hardest one for me, but once I am stood in my studio even if I don’t know what I’m going to do , I feel more energised.
Step 4: Establish your goal
What do you need to do? Finish a painting? Start a new piece of work? Edit your website? Write down the tasks you are avoiding and pin it somewhere visible. Above my studio desk is a good place for me.
Step 5: Break it down
The more specific you can be the better. The fear of failure is often coupled with the feeling of overwhelm, so the act of writing a task down allows you to see the reality of what you have been avoiding. More often than not it is not as complicated or arduous as our mind will let us believe. Once it is written down can you break it down into smaller tasks? For me, starting new work looks something like this:
Get out Art materials
Pin images of other inspiring work on my PIn Board
Get out my last successful pieces of work for review
Display photos or observational drawings from which to work from
Apply a coloured ground. etc
Once I get to this stage, it becomes less about what will I do or questioning my process and more about simply working through the steps I have written down and by that point my procrastination is long gone and I am back in the swing.
I have learnt that if I follow this system I can stop at any step and I know that I have made some progress towards my goal, even if I haven’t completed any work. Sure, sometimes I need to exercise a little discipline to get off the sofa but I try to treat myself as I would a child who is fearful, with gentle encouragement and kindness, and more often than not by the time I am standing in my studio I can feel my mojo coming back.