Is Procrastination the Creative’s Cross to Bear?

This blog post has been extracted from Organizing Your Creative Career: How to Channel Your Creativity into Career Success by Sheila Chandra, available now.

Fear of procrastination can be the biggest obstacle to setting off on a creative career. After all, if there’s no boss breathing down your neck or making you get up for 9am, then will you simply eat chocolate on the sofa all day in your pajamas? (You can tell this is the seductive procrastination siren that beckons to me, can’t you?)

Your goals, your task list breakdowns for each item, and the system I outlined for checking in, will help you avoid all that. You know what you feel pulled to do. You know how to get there. You know how to move forward a little every day.

If procrastination is still a problem, I’d suggest you review your goals and check they’re really yours. Does the work itself enthral you? Or merely the idea of being an artist and the attention you get? Do you simply love your social life more? The other thing to consider is whether or not you have the kind of risk-taking temperament a creative person needs to have? Are you willing to make sacrifices? Go out on a limb? Be laughed at, if necessary? Can you keep up a fast career pace?

The problem may be even deeper than that. Are you conflicted about being a creative person because your family disapproves? Do you suffer from imposter syndrome and sabotage yourself? If you recognize yourself in either of these last two questions, then you need either a good life coach or a therapist with whom you have a good rapport to help you get to the bottom of what you really want, and what you’re willing to do happily. This is a priceless investment, by the way. It’s no good climbing the ladder as fast as you can if it’s propped up against the wrong wall.

You may be generally well motivated but find that you hit pockets of procrastination. We need to tackle these to get you working properly. There are many reasons why procrastination can spiral out of control when you have a creative career and work unusual hours. Switching between administration tasks, including legal and financial work, and creative tasks such as rehearsing or song writing can be difficult, and the “reboot” time your brain requires to do it can be scary. Or you may find that you simply can’t do it at all.

“It’s no good climbing the ladder as fast as you can if it’s propped up against the wrong wall”

Working late into the night can be an excuse not to work a full day (in terms of hours) or to lose your discipline or focus, especially if you are travel-weary or jetlagged as well. There is often no set career path, no way of assessing your progress, especially in the short term, and no boss on your back giving you a sense of drive. That can trip you up if you fear making the wrong decisions. If you are bad at your job, there is simply no way of knowing what you could have achieved had you done well, so there is a tendency to sit back on your laurels. Industry professionals may simply take your word for it if you tell them that an album will take a year to do, because they don’t want to “mess” with your creative process. You will only be pressured once you are behind on an official deadline, so the temptation is to set one a long way ahead, especially if you don’t know how long you will need.

All the above are pitfalls that don’t affect the average person. It may seem as though artists have a licence to work half as hard, but being “stuck”, and not growing professionally and financially when you need to, feels awful. You’re in a profession in which you’re expected to be self-motivated and a jack of all trades. And also one in which, in many cases, you are expected to work for months or years on end perfecting your craft or a project, with virtually no outside validation, and sometimes with very little outside input either. Procrastination is a monster more likely to affect you than most, and one that you must conquer in order to succeed. Even workaholics find themselves procrastinating sometimes, and unable to stop, even though they desperately need to. As a result, once they break the pattern, they can find themselves working even more compulsively to “make up for lost time”.

Find out more

To hear some of Sheila’s tips for dealing with procrastination, check out the ‘Planning and Career Wellbeing’ chapter of Organizing Your Creative Career.

Surprisingly, to date there has not been a single book that addresses the unique organizational challenges that artists face. This book sets out to change that, addressing the myth that truly creative people are messy and that they need mess in order to create. Sheila Chandra applies her professional insights as a creative and organizing expert to the lives of other busy creative people in all disciplines showing them how good organization can liberate their creative magic.

Organizing Your Creative Career: How to Channel Your Creativity into Career Success is available from 14th January 2020.