Productivity tips from a serial procrastinator

General / 09 August 2018

This is mostly for myself. It's what I wish someone had said to me when I was a beginner. I'm a procrastinator and I respond to tough love and brutal truth. If you're like me, maybe this will help. If not, that's fine. Thanks for stopping by anyway.

 

THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS FREE TIME

"I go to work, then school, then I go to bed. How am I supposed to get free time if you keep telling me to work on my craft on nights and weekends?"

The answer is, you're not. There's no such thing as free time, there's only time. (I don't remember who said that and it doesn't matter.)

Look, there are only so many hours in a day. There isn't enough time in your life to do everything you want to do. You're going to have to give something up. Everything you do is a sacrifice of something else. Obviously you have to pay the bills, maintain relationships, eat, sleep and exercise. After all of that, you don't have time to watch the new season of 'Orange is the New Black' and work on your demoreel. So which are you going to give up? (Keep reading for why you shouldn't do both at the same time.)

 

BUSYNESS IS NOT PROGRESS

Ok so maybe you're one of those people that doesn't have a motivation problem. You live and breathe this stuff. You've sold your XBox, cancelled your Netflix, and your friends haven't seen you in a month. (Good, all they ever do is get drunk and talk about how drunk they were the last time they got drunk. You don't need them.) So why aren't you making any progress?

Well, the question remains, how are you spending your time? Are you constantly starting projects and never finishing them? Are you just practicing online tutorials and doing abstract exercises without a specific goal in mind? That's better than watching 'Breaking Bad' for the 4th time (guilty), but it won't help you progress. Sometimes that abstract exercise leads to inspiration for a broader project. But having goals, and seeing them through to the end is the best way to learn, and the best way to show off what you've learned to other artists.

Come up with a character, or a prop, or an environment, or whatever it is you want to create. Make sure it's beyond your current skill level, and then...just start. Begin modeling. When you get to the steps that you don't understand, ask YouTube for help. And then keep going until the project is done. Don't stop when the project drifts slightly off of your original concept. Don't stop when it falls short of your standards, because it will. Everything you create will fall short of your standards. But your standards will rise and so will your work. Your work will never catch up, and that's ok.

 

IT'S OK THAT YOU SUCK

It's ok that you suck right now as long as your next project sucks a little less. If you stop because your work sucks, then you will always suck. If you want to get good, you have to suck...a lot. There really isn't much more to say on this subject. that's just the way it is. If you want to be good at something you have to suck at it first. But the key is you have to suck at it every day.

 

THERE ARE NO SECRETS

The good and the bad news is that there are no secrets to becoming an expert at something. It's good news because it's simple, you just have to do it. The bad news is that it's hard. Simple but hard, that's the truth of it. You are in control of your life. Doing what you want to be able to do is as simple, and as hard, as giving up everything that gets in the way.

It's not about motivation, it's about discipline. If the artists you admire only worked when they felt motivation, they wouldn't be artists you admire. You wouldn't even know their names. So forget trying to find that perfect inspirational playlist to get yourself pumped. Forget watching Netflix on your second monitor while you work to keep your mind occupied. That second monitor is for references, and your mind should be occupied with your work. Motivation is a trap. Forget about it. Just sculpt. Just paint. Just draw. Just write. Just don't sit on your ass and consume. Anything but that.

 

IF YOU MUST PROCRASTINATE, DO IT WELL

I'm a procrastinator. It's how I am and that will never change. I will always get satisfaction from not doing what I know I should be doing. The key is to first avoid the pitfalls of procrastination. And secondly, allow yourself to do it in a way that's still productive. An example of avoiding the pitfalls, in my life, is to not have anything visual on the side while I work. Don't have a movie or a show on your other screen because you'll just end up watching that. If need be, don't work in the same place that you play. I find it very hard to work at home, even if I set myself up in a dedicated work area. There are too many distractions. And while I COULD browse Reddit or watch Netflix at my actual job, I find that being there changes my mindset into work mode. So find a place to work that isn't your house or apartment, if you can. Otherwise dedicate a room solely to working. Smudge it with sage if you have to. Make a sacrifice and consecrate the space to the Dark Gods of Getting-Shit-Done, and never profane your holy temple with Hulu, Steam Summer Sale, or other blasphemies.

Whatever it takes.

An example of procrastinating well, if you must procrastinate, is to do something related to your project.  Get up and plan the next phase. Write, sketch, or go for a walk and think. Take screenshots of your work and send it to other artists you respect and get feedback. Watch a tutorial. Maybe work on a side project (but don't have more than 2 going at a time or you might fall into the trap of always starting and never finishing.)

Don't waste hours trying to create the perfect inspirational playlist. Do that before you sit down to be creative. My go-to background entertainment it The Collective Podcast by Ash Thorp, an artist I really admire. But probably the best thing to do is have a few pre-picked stations on Pandora and just take the responsibility out of your hands entirely.

Your XBox clan doesn't matter. That show you like on Netflix doesn't matter. Being right on Twitter doesn't matter. You can do those things and that's fine, but they won't help you be who you want to be...unless what you want to be is a consumer, rather than a creator.

You have these artists that you look up to online and you don't think you can ever be like them. You can. They were like you, once. They're not special, they just put in the work. It's that simple. You can do that. There is nothing external holding you back from becoming the artist that you want to be. There is no trick to achieving what you want to achieve, you just have to stop doing everything else.