When you procrastinate, I don’t believe it’s the type of task that’s important.
You might choose to watch television or bake a cake.
It doesn’t matter.
Nor does the ease of the task you choose make much difference.
You might choose to procrastinate by doing something you actually find quite difficult, like going for a run or repainting the skirting boards.
What’s important is that it’s a task you can complete.
You see, once you’ve finished vacuuming the front room your brain releases a little hit of dopamine. This is the neurotransmitter that tells your body it’s done well.
The release of dopamine gives you a sense of accomplishment: well done, your brain says, you’ve completed something.
Go on, your brain whispers, complete something else and I’ll give you another hit.
Hmm. What have you got more chance of completing – a 60,000 word manuscript or the washing up?
You know you’d rather work on the manuscript, but there’s so much to do. It might be years before you finish it.
But the washing up, that won’t take ten minutes.
You do the washing up.
And then you think you may as well dry up too. Then it’s done.
Before you know it, the hour you had hoped to spend on your creative work is down to half an hour and it’s not really worth starting if you’ve only got half an hour, so you put it off again.
This is how procrastination works.
It’s a vicious cycle that’s easy to get trapped in. What you could call the logic of procrastination suggests a dull but simple task will always take precedence over an abstract task.
Because creative work is often so amorphous there’s no wonder creative people struggle so much with procrastination.
But there is a way to overcome the problem.
You just need to change the way you perceive the creative process.
Use your addiction to your advantage
PG Wodehouse must have been a real dopamine addict.
It’s said he followed a strict daily routine all through his life, which saw him write around 2,500 words a day in his prime. Even in later life, it’s said he would crank out around 1,000 a day.
He would wake each day and perform a series of callisthenic exercises before taking his breakfast and reading a relatively light-hearted book.
He’d then walk the dogs and follow that with lunch.
In the afternoon he would sit down at his desk and, come what may, churn out pages of copy.
Thanks to this routine, he wrote 71 novels, 42 plays and 15 scripts.
Pretty good going, right?
I can’t imagine PG Wodehouse suffered any anxiety over procrastination and we can certainly learn from his approach to help reduce our own.
It comes down to the way you perceive the creative process. Too often we only see the completion of the entire piece as an achievement.
We must complete the novel, finish the painting, or perform the play. We tend not to reward ourselves for the process, only the end product. This is a mistake.
If you were to sit down and aim to write 71 novels like PG Wodehouse, you’d likely have a breakdown there and then. It seems impossible. Frankly, if you had asked Wodehouse himself to write 71 novels he’d have chased you out of his garden jeering his pipe at you.
Instead, Wodehouse didn’t focus on the end product. He focused on the process.
In doing so, he broke down the end product into more manageable chunks.
Much like washing up, vacuuming the floor or repairing the garden shed, Wodehouse made writing a small task he could complete and tick off each day.
When it comes to the logic of procrastination, he turned an abstract task into a dull but simple one. By taking some of the romance out of the act of creativity, he was able to be more creative.