This week’s guestblogger is writer, content producer extraordinaire and sales process architect Dave Baldwin of Raleigh. I’ve known Dave for over eight years starting when he was one of my open mic participants. Since then, we’ve collaborated on writing workshops, writing projects, referrals and blogging. I consider him a great friend and he’ll be posting here once a month. Dave is now working on an amazing project that will help introverts achieve great success in the business world. I love how he weaves his message about procrastination into this very blog post. Read on and learn more about Dave at the bottom of this post.
“We don’t tell ourselves, ‘I’m never going to write my symphony.’ Instead we say, ‘I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.’” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
I have been writing for most of my life—and since 2007, I have written professionally for clients of all sizes on projects ranging from social media posts to full-length books. I have had numerous friends and professional colleagues remark that they don’t know how I manage to continue producing content year after year. However, appearances are not always what they seem. The truth is that I struggle to keep up a consistent writing routine. My discipline has improved considerably over the past eight years since I chose the written word as my primary art form, but I still have a long way to go. Why am I sharing this now? A major part of my life’s mission is to encourage and inspire other writers and artists. I think that it’s important to fully acknowledge the struggle that goes along with pursuing your passion.
The Root Cause of Procrastination
No one has it easy. The most successful artists still have to get up and do things they don’t want to do every day. During earlier phases of my career, I used to believe I would one day reach a point when I would “make it.” On this imaginary day, the challenges would be over and I would spend the rest of my days reaping the rewards. I have found no evidence to back up this fantasy. Everything I’ve experienced, seen, heard and read points to the same conclusion: creativity requires a daily commitment that never ends.
I have seen too many people with great ideas give up on their passion—or worse yet—put it off until later. Sometimes, we passively wait for life to cooperate. We think that we’ll write our book when things settle down at work, after a family member recovers from an illness or after some external circumstance moves out of the way. Other times, we buy into the myth that creativity comes easily to some people and wonder why it’s not that easy for us. But that’s the nature of the playing field. Life never cooperates with creative endeavors. We have to take the reins. It’s part of the price we all have to pay if we want to be artists.
The first step is acknowledging that it’s not easy and accepting that it never will be—no matter how much success we ever realize. The second step is to make a habit of finishing things when we say we will.
Do’s and Don’ts of Deadlines
There’s a common saying among creative types: “Done is better than perfect.” Setting deadlines is a critical discipline if you want to put your art out into the world. When I start a new project, the first question I ask myself is: when am I committed to having this done? With a blog post, I’ll typically give myself an hour to click the “publish” button. With larger projects, I might define my time frame in terms of weeks or even months. In all cases, I have found that deciding on a time frame before anything else forces me to frame my thinking around what I can realistically implement within that time. It keeps me from going down rabbit holes or biting off more than I can chew. However, as most of us have experienced, setting a deadline is one thing—and sticking to it is another.
I originally committed to Alice that I would have this post done by August 15th. I realized earlier that week that it wasn’t going to happen, and I reached out to her to tell her I needed an additional week. Was it appropriate to extend this deadline, or was I justifying procrastination? Honestly, I’m not sure. But I looked at myself in the mirror after sending the email to Alice. “I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt this time,” I said. “But we’re not extending this deadline another week. That guest post will be done next Saturday, no excuses.” The following week, it seemed like a good idea to push it back again, so I looked at myself in the mirror again. I said to myself, “Don’t even think about it.” I sat myself in my writing chair and got it done. This is an example of what I call “self-accountability.” No one else can hold me accountable unless I want to be accountable.
What’s the lesson here? Only set deadlines when you are genuinely committed to meeting them. There’s nothing more disempowering than an unrealistic deadline. I once told myself that I would finish my next book in 30 days. It never got done at all. Making a public declaration to your Facebook friends about a goal you are going to hit is great if you’ve done your homework, but resist the temptation to go off half-cocked and make overly ambitious announcements about future feats. Contrary to popular belief, the threat of humiliation is not an effective motivator. Only your inner passion and calling will get you out of bed in the morning.
Mortality (and the Immortality of Art)
One thing I find it important to remind myself often: I’m going to die, but my art is not. There are some deadlines that are fixed, absolute and outside of our control. Death is one of them. My body has a finite amount of life left in it, and the clock is ticking. I think about the great works of art throughout time that outlived their creators. Shakespeare’s plays continue to change the lives of the actors who recite his famous lines on stage, nearly 400 years after his death. Think of all the paintings, sculptures, songs, architectural masterpieces, motion pictures and other creative works that live in the world today. The vast majority of their creators are long gone. The artists living today will not be here forever, and neither will you.
Sometimes, I pause and listen to my heartbeat or pay attention to my breath. I envision a number counting down with each beat or each exhalation. Sooner or later, that counter will reach zero. I don’t know how many heartbeats I have left. (Side note: being conscious of your physical body in the moment can work wonders for evoking creativity!) I’d like to think I will live out a full life to the age of ninety or more, but my little sister didn’t live to see her seventeenth birthday. Why should I believe that I have any guarantees? Every day that I waste represents a piece of art that will never come into existence. I do not always have a high opinion of my own art, but so what? It’s not about me. I am not qualified to judge my own art. It will take on a life of its own in the centuries after I’ve left this world.
Procrastination is insidious and subtle. It is the number one reason why people don’t live the lives they were meant to live. The only time to disrupt it is now. Are you waiting until “someday” to do what you are really called to do? If so, what would it take to get yourself in motion today?
Dave Baldwin helps introverts become better salespeople. His unique approach to selling is designed to be natural and authentic, designed for people who have a passion for what they do, but who are not “natural salespeople.” A Toastmaster since 2007 (Raleigh Talkmasters), his areas of expertise include: content writing, marketing and communications strategy, blogging, whitepaper/e-book writing, process flow documentation, business software implementation and computer programming.
Dave’s ultimate vision is to transform the field of education by creating tools that empower people to build stronger relationships. His BHAG (“big, hairy, audacious goal”) is to make an appearance on Shark Tank.