Every time one of my letters disappears from this box, mail comes back with topic suggestions. I really appreciate these ideas. One of the most frequently requested is “procrastination” — a subject of which I’m proud to be an authority. Just as it takes a somewhat recovered alcoholic to stand up in an AA meeting, I’m your guy.
For those who are so afflicted, a good place to start is the realization of how insidious and dangerous it is. Procrastination ruins careers, pocketbooks, marriages. It saps energy and hinders creativity. I’m not going to go into its causes this time, but I will show you how to get it under control. So debilitating is procrastination, so difficult to overcome, that it requires a minor religion.
First, you need a symbol. This symbol is the circle. The circle means that you can start any process at any point on a circle. This is a basic principle — there’s no single spot in the book where it says “start.” You need to pin the circle on the wall over by your colour-wheel.
Then you need a statement of faith: “There is always now,” is one of the most holy. It should be printed out big and hung on your easel. “Do it now,” and “Simply begin,” are others. I think the best are where you put your own spin on your statements.
Then you need a prayer. This is not to ask for a special dispensation from a higher power — it’s an affirmation of intention and commitment.
Then you need a retreat. For most of us it’s right here in our studios. We artists have a deep need to become one with our work — unsullied, un-tempted, unspotted and uninterrupted. Incidentally, genuine contemplation-time is not procrastination. It’s a part of working. When you are properly in retreat your work grabs you.
Finally you need an anthem. “Start” can be simply when you turn on the radio — or it can be favourite canned music. Music that encourages marching or dancing is good — it stirs the blood. Incidentally, when you turn the music off — you can be off as well. You’re outta here. One day at a time.
PS: “Great journeys start with the space between one’s feet.” (Lao Tzu)
Esoterica: For chronic procrastinators, making lists can be a bad idea. Lists imply order, and the creative mind is not always ordered — nor is it always desirable to be so. The creator needs merely to “keep going” in the direction of most immediate and effective accomplishment. Thinking on your feet, big and difficult tasks can be divided into smaller and easier tasks. As well, multiple projects are more finely realized through the gift of simultaneity — “keep busy while the paint dries.”
This letter was originally published as “There is always now” on June 25, 2004.
“The time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.” (Napoleon Hill)