How To Defeat The Procrastination Monkey

How To Defeat The Procrastination Monkey

Here’s an interesting thing I’ve noticed about myself – when it comes to getting shit done, I am binary. I will either plough through the to-do list, gleefully ticking things off and high fiving myself for my efficiency and dedication to the project at hand, or I will resist, resist, resist and do anything and everything but the project at hand, stress levels rising by the hour and procrastination manifesting as actual physical discomfort. The voice of reason says ‘just go and bloody do it,’ while the monkey on my shoulder says ‘look, over there, more stuff that will be infinitely more gratifying right now than the stuff you actually have to do.’ The monkey is particularly vocal when said ‘stuff’ involves more than one task, or something that will need to be done over a matter of days or weeks.

The rational part of our brain knows that it would be much better to sit down now and get the task out of the way. At school, it was this part of my brain that exhorted me to get the damn English essay out of the way as soon as I got home. Monkey had other ideas, though. Fuck that, it’s Friday, the essay can wait. Friday would turn into Saturday, Saturday would turn into Sunday and before you know it it’s egg sambos for tea, Murder She Wrote is on the telly, the feckin’ essay is still not written and I have a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach as I am in no more mood to write a bloody essay than I am to clean the dog poo out of the yard. Why didn’t I just get it done on Friday? Gahhhhhhh!

As a mature and, very occasionally, organised adult, I have learned a thing or two about how to deal with the procrastination monkey, and I share these things with you now, my fellow procrastinators, in the hope that they will bring a little more flow to the process of Getting Shit Done.

Tip 1. Do a little exploration around why it is you might be procrastinating – it may well be that the task is onerous and you just can’t be arsed, or it may be that there’s something a little deeper at play. Is there some fear around getting the task done? And remember, it could be fear of success as much as fear of failure? In the case of either, ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen and how you will handle it. Digging a little deeper around the reasons for your procrastination will help you understand what you need to work through before you get started.

Tip 2. Get all other distractions off the list first of all. Diving into a big project requires clarity of thought and real focus, so if there are loads of other niggly things taking up headspace, get the buggers out of the way before you begin on the bigger project. Sit down and make a list of all the things that can easily be ticked off and just plough through them. This will shift the energy into one of ‘preparedness’ and remove any distractions. I just need to do X, Y, or Z before I can get started is a great way of never getting started. So deal with X, Y and Z promptly and then don’t go looking for A, B or C.

Tip 3. Have a good old brainstorm around the task or project, using mind mapping software or an old-fashioned sketchpad and Crayolas! Put the name or theme of the project in the centre and just start riffing on all the things that might be involved. This helps your brain to start seeing the project as a set of ideas or tasks that you can get to grips with rather than one big overwhelming project that is, frankly scaring the bejaysus out of you.

Tip 4. Break it down into easily manageable chunks. This is the process I find the most useful and the one I always come back to when resistance really kicks in. As an example, creating my 8 week Into the Spotlight programme was something that was seriously scaring the bejaysus out of me, however, after completing step 3 and, in particular step 4, the fear began to dissipate and the physical discomfort associated with that fear abated as well. I broke the tasks down into a series of totally achievable sub tasks and gave myself a high five for things like: ‘Research and choose the best camera to record videos with.’ Task ticked off, go have wine!

Tip 5. Set the timer on your phone for 30 minutes or get yourself the 30/30 App. This breaks things down into 30-minute intervals for you and is a great way of helping you to get into action mode. Doing something for 30 minutes and just giving it your all is a much sweeter pill to swallow than the idea of sitting down at the desk and slogging away ineffectively for hours on end. Once you start, you’ll find the natural momentum of ‘doing’ begins to take over and you may not even want to stop at 30 minutes.

Tip 6. Get yourself an accountability buddy and tell them not to let you off the hook. If you really and truly want to get something done and you know you have a habit of ‘going easy’ on yourself, phone a friend or family member, publicly declare your intentions and ask them to kick your butt if you don’t make shit happen.

Now go forth and be a truly terrible procrastinator!

p.s. I happen to be a darn good accountability buddy, and am very good at kicking butt while gently coaxing you to brilliance. Click here if you’d like to know more about working with me.

 

 

One Man’s Non Linear Is Another Man’s Beautiful Mess

One Man’s Non Linear Is Another Man’s Beautiful Mess

As I shared with my Facebook group yesterday – the process of birthing a new play is messy, emotional and a bit of a head fuck. The highs of creating your characters and developing their story into a piece of dramatic art are often dampened by the painful process of having to shape that story into a narrative that will make even the vaguest sense to your audience. And as a first time playwright, I’m having a difficult labour, for not everyone who comes to see this show will be as butterfly brained and non-linear as I am. Some people like structure – this happens and then that happens and the story flows from A to B. My brain is to structure what Donald Trump is to intelligent oration and it’s proving to be somewhat problematic.

Having received feedback from a writer and director I admire a lot to the effect that my play was a little all over the place and somewhat confused about its purpose, I found myself in a mild funk yesterday afternoon. Draft 4 and it’s still a meandering mess – maybe this play is just not meant to be. Maybe it will be the play that teaches me how to be a better writer, that coaxes my rebellious brain into playing by the rules when it comes to story arc and process. And maybe that’s OK. But then again, maybe that’s not. What is a writer to do?

Not trusting my brain to come to the right conclusion, I did what I do the majority of the time when faced with a question to which there could be many ‘right’ answers. I decided to sit with it and ask my body what it thought. What was my creative gut telling me on this one and how did I feel about its pronouncement. I went for a ponder wander, I meditated and rather than chasing the answer, I decided to just let it ‘download.’

And the conclusion I came to was this. My mentor is absolutely right. This play is non-linear, it doesn’t follow a sequence of events and it might even be a bit of a mess right now, but honestly, I am absolutely OK with that. And then, as if to further convince me to trust my gut, the Universe sent me a sign. As I darted through my Facebook feed trying to avoid the politics, I came across an interview with an Irish film director called Mark O’Connor. Responding to a review of his latest film, which had been described as a ‘mess… but a beautiful mess,’ he said: ‘I like it when scripts go off in tangents… some of the best moments in cinema are simply about being in the moment… All I have ever wanted to do is make beautiful messes… I’m not a structure person.’

And I literally shouted at my Macbook: ‘Neither am I, Mark, neither am fucking I.’

And I decided that I wouldn’t go back to my script and unpick it and unpack it further, or cut characters, or make it about just one thing. Not just yet.  Because this play is about more than just one thing. Life is messy and complex – we are all the product of the myriad experiences we have had; the traumas, the heartbreaks, the losses, the ‘bad’ decisions, the toxic relationships, the secrets we have harboured, the shame, the fear and the love. God almighty the love. And I wanted to write about all of those things. So I did.

As makers of art, we have to be prepared for criticism; not everyone is going to get what you do or see what you see in it. And 100% yes, we must learn to be humble enough to take the advice on board, go back to the drawing board and try to make some sense of the meanderings. But we must also learn to trust our creative souls, be the guardians of our stories and remember that one man’s non-linear is another man’s beautiful mess. Let your work lead you where it will, stay open to the ‘downloads’ and enjoy the chaotic, crazy, painful and wonderful process of birthing your art into the world.