Sunday, October 24, 2010

Self-Sabotage

Procrastination. We all do it, though we may pretend we don't.

Here's an article by James Surowiecki from The New Yorker. The whole thing is well worth reading for its examination of the phenomenon: sometimes procrastination is useful and/or enjoyable, sometimes we do it even when we don't enjoy what we're doing instead, and none of is alone in practicing it. Et cetera.

However, of course I'm interested in avoiding procrastination, as I suspect most creative people are.

Surowiecki names two concepts behind "fixes" for procrastination that have led me to some interesting insights about my own process.

One concept is "willpower." Just do it. Brute force. I am a thinking, rational creature who simply does the right thing to do. One problem with willpower is, of course, that some of us don't have much. Also, it's limited: if I'm busy not eating all the chocolate oatmeal macaroons, I have less willpower to exert in other areas.

The other concept is "the extended will"; that is, tools that extend your natural, animal willpower. AKA strategies to prevent you from slacking off. These tools can be things like deadlines halfway through the semester, or computer programs that don't allow you to check your email or that give you simply a black screen and a blinking cursor instead of letting you diddle with fonts. Simply breaking down a large project into smaller steps is another example.

The insights I came to about my own process aren't particularly interesting (although I am hearing "limit choices" in lots and lots of contexts these days), but this one may be useful to others: Willpower is NOT more virtuous, or more worthy, or otherwise inherently BETTER than the extended will. So use whatever works.

After all, the goal is to create good stuff. Not to be the Willpower Queen. Right?

So go forth and darken your screen, tie yourself to the chair, or write naked. It worked for Victor Hugo (just the naked part).

But read the rest of that article first. No, it doesn't "count" as procrastination. It's research into your process.