When people sign up for my newsletter, they get an email a few days later asking what they’re stuck with at the moment.
One of the things that people often ask for help with is procrastination.
Here’s the thing…
I’ve never written a “How to stop procrastinating” article because I haven’t figured it out yet. And I’m not sure I ever will.
Earlier this week I made a list of all the projects I feel like I want to be working on, along with the year I started them.
- Yakushima E.P. / 2012 *
- CycleLove blog / 2012
- CycleLove bike finder / 2016
- CycleLove “365 days of bike” poster / 2015
- CycleLove Design Co. portfolio and blog / 2016
- Undesign book / 2012
- Undesign podcast / 2016
- Undesign career workshop or course / 2016
- How to Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Sanity book / 2016
- Things You Should Do Before Going Freelance course v2 / 2015
- Seven Days of Writing course / 2016
- Places I’ve Hiked in Scotland website (personal project) / 2016
*I even got a friend to design the artwork for the Yakushima EP, thinking it would spur me on to get it finished. It didn’t.
That’s a crazy amount of stuff, right?
Especially considering that none of it’s generating any real income, yet…
It might feel like I should be working on all that stuff, but should I be?
Let’s start with the obvious conclusion from looking at my list of projects… it’s too long!
If you try to work on ten things at once, you’ll never finish anything.
Which is why I’m putting everything from this list on hold for the rest of the year, except for the Undesign Career Workshop. (If you’re a graphic designer at a career crossroads, stay tuned for more details on this. And if you’re waiting for the new version of my Before Going Freelance course, don’t worry, that’s next on the list!)
You need to be honest with yourself about what you should be working on vs what you want to work on.
If we’re talking business-related projects, you should work on the stuff that’s going to make you money. Eg if you need new client leads, should you be optimising your website’s loading time, or writing case studies and collecting testimonials from happy clients? You’ll most likely know the answer already, but have been kidding yourself about where your priorities lie. That’s how it is for me, anyway.
Forcing yourself to get ‘motivated’ doesn’t work in the long run
You might know you should be working on something, but you have to want to work on it too. Otherwise, as much as you whip yourself with a stick to get it done, this will happen:
So how can you avoid the wandering path of the procrastinator?
As I’ve already hinted at, there’s no magic bullet for this. (Or at least, I haven’t found it yet).
But here’s something that can help….
Look for the sweet spot where your Should Do’s and Want To Do’s overlap
You can’t always be working on the things that you want to, otherwise your business will fail.
And you can’t only be working on the stuff that you feel obligated to, otherwise you’ll crush your soul and it will slowly bleed out of your eyeballs.
The best way to stay motivated is to maintain a healthy mix of the two, like this:
One last thing…
Why following your passion is unlikely to help
If you think that finding your “one true passion” is the magic cure to procrastination, consider this version of the diagram:
The chance of finding a career where your Should Do’s and Want To Do’s completely overlap is as slim as lightening striking twice in the same spot.
I’m not saying it’s impossible, but for most people, I think it’s pretty unlikely.
You could spend your whole life trying to follow your passion and never get close, because you’re hunting a unicorn.
(Check out my rough framework for figuring out what the hell to do with your life and tips for finding work you love articles for more thoughts on this).
If you’re struggling to stay focused, try making a list of all the things you think you want to be working on, and then ruthlessly cutting it down to one thing.
Let me know how it goes 🙂
PS. With thanks to Jeff Sheldon, whose tweet inspired this article:
Stuff I should be working on.
Stuff I want to be working on.
When those two don't overlap I default to procrasti-working on the "wants."
— Jeff Sheldon (@ugmonk) October 17, 2016
Posted to Life