“Take the action and the insight will follow.”
-Anne Lamott, author
The Musician’s Way, p. 107
Whether we plan to create a performance, composition, essay, or mousetrap, we have to launch our project and work on it regularly.
But we all know that creative ventures often fizzle because we, the would-be creators, stall.
We convince ourselves that we’re not ready or that no one will care. We procrastinate.
In the end, far too many of us never get started on the things we hope to create and thereby cheat ourselves out of meaningful accomplishment.
Personally, I don’t intend to miss out on forging a meaningful life. I’m committed to doing the creative work that matters to me.
The key to my output is that I live by the following six habits that enable me to get started on my projects every day.
Six Habits to Counter Procrastination and Start Creating
1. Set Incremental Goals
By working in increments, we carve out achievable goals that fuel our motivation.
For instance, this week, I’m writing three short articles and learning a 30-minute piece of music for an upcoming performance. I’ve notched incremental goals for each article and in each section of the composition.
My objectives are clear and attainable, so I’m primed to begin working at any moment.
2. Create First
Scheduling creative time becomes simple when we decide that our creative work will be our first task.
If an early meeting obliges me to get up at 6:00, I rise at 5:00 and practice or write for an hour. In doing so, I not only get things done but also prepare to resume working later on.
3. Remove Distractions
If we sit down to create and we leave the phone on and an Internet connection open, we’re baiting ourselves to flee into distraction.
Before I start working, I silence the phone, disconnect from the Web, and ready my materials. That’s my opening ritual: off, off, ON!
4. Counter Negativity
I suppose that there are people somewhere who have purged all of their negativity, but I’m not one of them and I doubt that you are either. So instead of striving for saintliness, let’s aim for mindfulness.
Let’s agree that we’re going to say unhelpful things to ourselves, but instead of believing what we say, we’ll notice our negative self-talk and replace it with positive steps.
For example, if I sit down to write and I hear myself complain, “I have no idea what to do,” I laugh inwardly, because, of course, I do know what to do. I then compose some bullets and sentences. I begin.
5. Take Action
We’ve all heard stories about individuals who claim to have done brilliant work in a flurry of inspiration. “I was in the zone,” they say. “Phooey,” I say.
We all get flashes of insight, but few, if any, creative achievements happen in a flash. Rather, productive work results from persistent effort. If we tell ourselves that we can’t start unless we’re in the right mood, then we won’t get anything done.
Truth is, we don’t need to be in the zone to produce excellent work. We just have to show up and take action. Author Anne Lamott concurs: “Take the action and the insight will follow.” (The Musician’s Way, p. 107.)
6. Make Peace with the Process
The results of our creative work may be graceful, but the creative process rarely is. My work certainly isn’t.
I write lousy first drafts, stir up vexing problems, and flub on my guitar fingerboard. If missteps and predicaments caused me agony, I wouldn’t start at all.
I accept my goofball notions and wrong notes as essential and even amusing. I know that creating is hard, messy, and, most of all, rewarding.
* * *
If you’ve been dreaming of initiating a project, I invite you to try this:
- Before you retire for the night, jot down one or two incremental goals and then set your alarm clock.
- When the alarm sounds, get up and get started.
* * *
See The Musician’s Way for proven pathways to musical excellence for aspiring performers and their teachers.
10 Tips for Ongoing Creativity
The Growth Mindset
Scamper to Higher Creativity
© 2009 Gerald Klickstein
Photo licensed from Shutterstock
I was reading this and was so reminded of the techniques Eric Maisel describes in his book “Overcoming Creative Anxiety” which has helped me tremendously. Thanks for distilling them here!
Hi Jason – Thanks for contributing! The book you refer to, “Mastering Creative Anxiety” by Eric Maisel is a gem. Readers can preview it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/11RViF3
Thank you, Dennis. I resonate with your point about false, romantic notions of creativity being harmful. I heard psychologist/author Eric Maisel give a lecture about personal creativity in which he aptly referred to such false notions as ‘inspiration mythology.’ You know, that old ‘waiting for the muse’ nonsense.
I believe that we’re all creative. But, for many of us, as we grow from childhood through adulthood, we somehow lose touch with our creativity. Ken Robinson frequently speaks to this subject – he claims that our schools are driving the creativity out of us and that we must radically rethink our educational models. If he’s right, then it’s up to all of us to encourage things like constructivist learning and divergent thinking in our educational institutions. I discuss the topic of constructivist learning in my post titled “Constructive Creativity” https://www.musiciansway.com/blog/2009/08/constructive-creativity/
I think these 6 habits are very helpful. I especially like habit # 5 (Take Action)and the premise that you don’t have to somehow wait for the inspiration to magically appear. This takes the arbitrariness out of creativity and instead contributes to the person’s sense of control over their own creative growth. All too often the excuse for not getting anything done is due to the romantic (and damaging) notion that fate and inspiration are in control of our creative output and artistic growth. “Truth is we don’t need to be in the zone to produce excellent work. We just have to show up and take action.” These words are very liberating and can lead one to a much needed perspective shift, where the locus of control is internal (on our conscious desire to produce something) and not on some nebulous external condition.
I also like the simple yet very powerful notion of just begin.
Thanks for this article, Jerry.