Procrastination has an undeserved bad reputation. When I say procrastination, it may bring to mind images of someone watching cat videos or 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger clips until 3 in the morning. It may bring to mind a college student sleeping until 11 and skipping his or her two morning classes.
How myopic to dismiss procrastination so quickly! My pet theory is that procrastination is actually our minds’ crude reaction to another issue. At its heart, procrastination is avoidance. You don’t avoid things for no reason at all. You avoid them because they’re unpleasant or because you’re tired or because there’s something better.
When I find myself procrastinating, I know that it’s time for a little introspection. I then ask myself these five questions:
- What do I want?
- What big steps do I take to get what I want?
- What small steps do I take to get what I want?
- What motivates me?
- What demotivates me?
What do I want?
It is extremely easy to avoid doing something if you don’t want to do it. Earth-shattering revelation, I know. But let’s face it: it’s exhausting to chase goals and it’s extra exhausting to chase goals you don’t even want to reach.
For a concrete example, let’s imagine you’re designing a push-your-luck game. Problem is that you don’t care for push-your-luck games! In this example, it makes sense that you should try creating a game you would want to play. Making War Co. would have been impossible for me to do if I didn’t fundamentally like the genre and the game I was making.
When you’re being creative, doing something you like is critical. The world’s best chef would probably be a very mediocre accountant.
What big steps do I take to get what I want?
A lot of people have a really good idea of what they want, but a lack of direction leaves them wandering and confused. I’ve been there, too. Sometimes it helps to write down what you want and outline the major steps it takes to get there. Having even a rough road map to reaching your goals makes them feel more real, more possible, and less abstract. If you want your goal and it feels real, you’ll be less inclined to procrastinate.
What small steps do I take to get what I want?
Sometimes having a rough outline won’t cut it. If you know what you want and the basic way of getting there, break it down until you have small, achievable, specific, bite-sized steps. It’s highly motivating to be able to accomplish something toward your goals every day.
Keep tweaking your to-do list until it’s open enough to give you freedom, but defined enough to keep you moving.
What motivates me?
If you know what you want and have a very strong idea of how to get there, sometimes it’s tempting to procrastinate because the process of getting there still sucks. Set up a reward structure for yourself so that you’ll keep chasing your goals. Take time off if you need it. Enjoy the little pleasures in life and in your creative work. You’re not a robot.
What demotivates me?
If you know what you want, how to get it, and how to keep yourself motivated, that’s great! If you’re still procrastinating, though, it could be a sign that something is siphoning off your creative energy. It can be something as simple as a pen that won’t write, a chair that hurts your back, or neighbors who play their music too loud. You might be tired, restless, or stressed. You might find it exhausting to discuss your work on certain social media channels or forums.
Examine your creative process and think about what makes you groan, cuss, and cringe. Consider cutting that out of your process if it’s not absolutely necessary. Learn to minimize the annoyance’s impact if you can’t remove it entirely. You’re in this for the long run.
Defusing procrastination isn’t so tricky if you abandon the arbitrary guilt associated with it. See procrastination for what it is: a crude signal from your mind telling you to evaluate your life.