Last Friday I mentioned that time had been on my mind a lot lately.  Like most people who run a small business, I never seem to have enough time.  The biggest struggle I have is balancing design work with administrative details.  I’m also a first class procrastinator when it comes to certain things.

a cork board of post it notes that say 'tomorrow'Now, while procrastination is definitely my enemy, it can be a good thing at times.  It does allow your mind to wander to places it might not go, or to take a much needed break.  But most of the time, it’s my nemesis.

So, in an effort to improve on my procrastination and be more productive I decided to sit down and really think about the things that keep me from getting work done or from doing what I call straggling (taking an entire day to complete a one hour task by faffing about on-line or finding excuses to get up from my desk).

what’s holding me up?

When I really started to think about what’s causing me to do most of my straggling, it’s two things:

  • feeling overwhelmed
  • feeling scared

overwhelmed

Sometimes the sheer volume of things that need to be done sends me into a state of denial and instead of getting anything done, I get nothing done.  Other times it can be a single large project and I can’t even comprehend where to start… so I don’t.  When I really think about it, it’s not that I don’t want to do these things – I just seem to go into a state of paralysis because my brain is pulled in too many different directions and I can’t focus.

fear

Fear is a different animal.  Every creative person goes through this – you look at the blank canvas and wonder if you have anything original to bring to it or if anything is going to come into your brain when you need it to.  You wonder if you’re a hack or a fraud or if you really know what you’re doing.  It’s scary when this is your livelihood.

getting around those stumbling blocks

How do you get around them?  Well, I think for everyone it’s different.  Feeling overwhelmed is getting easier for me.  I have a trusty graph paper notepad that I get teased about on a regular basis.  I use it for blocking out wireframes and designs, doodling, and most importantly… lists!

lists

I make lists for everything.  I make a list at the end of the day of all the things I have to do the next day… every little task, no matter how small.  And then I make a checkbox using the graph.  When a task is done, I check it off.  Not only do I get enormous satisfaction at the end of the day when I see all the checkmarks (well… on most days) but it also keeps me highly focused.  The key seems to be doing it the night before, so when I sit down first thing the next morning, I have no excuse to mess about.  Everything is right there in front of me and I just have to dig in.  It stops the feeling of being overwhelmed because now I know what I have to do it – it’s all written there in black and white.

I do the same with big projects.  I make a list of all the tasks that need to be done from beginning to end and start chipping away at them.  It makes the project seem manageable.

One thing I have found is that keeping task lists in my Outlook or on my Blackberry does not work for me.  I need the entire list in front of me all day and I need to go through the physical act of writing it out the night before.  I find that is the key to clarifying all the thoughts in my brain.

fear

This is a tougher one that I struggle with all the time and I’m not so good at tackling it.  Sometimes the empty page/screen/viewfinder is menacing.  I’m always so afraid that nothing will come to me and what I do manage to get out will be garbage.  At times I do just about anything to avoid it.  But lately, a lot of things have been popping up on my blog roll and in books I’m reading where the general consensus is, as Nike would say: Just Do It!

And the thing is, I know in my brain and heart that this is true.  So many times when I’ve forced myself to sit down and just get something, anything, out, the floodgates will open and things start to happen.  Yeah, the first few takes are usually lousy but they get my mind and creative instincts flowing and that first bad take will lead to a new idea and off I go – I can work for several hours straight and not even notice.  I know it will come together if I just trust in my natural instincts, stop avoiding them and just sit down and start!

And that is where discipline (and wanting to get paid!) come in.  Knowing that I need to shut off the IM, email and ignore the outside world for a few hours is one thing… doing it is another.  And right now that is my biggest challenge – figuring out a way, during those precious few hours of design time I have, to control the distractions that stop me from getting started.

If you’ve got suggestions, I’m all ears.  How do you keep procrastination at bay?

In Part 2, I’m going to look at different ways to make use of your time to be more productive (once you get past that procrastination battle, that is!)