Procrastination sucks. If there is one thing that has slowed me down in life more than I care to admit, even though I’m doing so now, it’s procrastination.

It’s not as much an issue for activities I feel I must do, like earning a living or making an effort to stay healthy. But for lofty pursuits I want to do, those far-reaching goals I feel will make my life great instead of good, yet there are no dire consequences looming if I don’t achieve them, tomorrow becomes a catch all.

Most of time you hear this another way…

One day I will               .

But “one day” rarely comes.

Procrastination: Hourglass with Sand Running Out
One Day…

Yet, what fuels procrastination for me, and for some others I’ll bet, is the desire to be great instead of good. Wait… wanting to be great instead of good is what’s keeping me stuck at good instead of great?

Yes. And there’s the paradox.

There’s nothing wrong with the desire to to do great things. I hope anyone reading this wants to be great instead of good in life. But the problem lies with expecting to be great from the beginning, especially when starting any new endeavor where we lack experience.

When we hear a great song, it’s tempting to think it flowed easily from the songwriter’s brain, perhaps in one sitting. But the probable reality is the songwriter wrote an initial version of the song that was mediocre or even bad, then kept working to make it better. We tend to forget there was a process of trial and error and plain hard work that went into a wonderful creation we read, view, or listen to in its final form.

woman writing song with guitar
Creativity… Genius or Hard Work?

But for argument’s sake, what if the song did seemingly flow magically from the songwriter’s brain in one session? If it did, we may overlook it happened because that songwriter spent thousands of hours writing mediocre or even bad songs that allowed her to improve her craft over many years until she could write a great song in one sitting.

You often hear this another way…

A ten-year overnight success story.

How many of us put so much pressure on ourselves to produce something great on the first try, that we become fearful to start? We stall. We allow ourselves to get distracted. We clean our closets even though we hate cleaning closets because we fool ourselves into thinking we are being productive when we should be working on that thing we so desperately want to accomplish in life but are afraid we are not good enough to do.

In other words…

We procrastinate.

Do It Later Written in the Sand
Procrastination… Laziness or Something Else?

To break free from procrastination’s treacherous undertow, one must overcome the fear of being bad, or creating something bad in the beginning stages, whether that stage is early in terms of experience, or early in terms of a new project even if you’ve done similar ones before. Only after we eek out a first bad effort, one that has become tangible, can we look at that effort to understand what went wrong. But here’s the beautiful thing… we can then make it better. Anne Lamott, in her great writing book, Bird by Bird, calls it the first shitty draft.

That makes me smile every time I read it.

Another accomplished writer, James Thurber, put it this way: “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

When we wait to start an effort until we know every detail on how we’ll do it so it can be great, we tend to never start. At least not until a deadline makes us panic and we frantically crank out the task the evening before it’s due. Never mind we had three months to work on it. What we’ve done, in this case, was crank out the first shitty draft at the last minute. And waiting until the last minute to crank out our first shitty draft means there is no time to do a good second draft and definitely no time to do a great third draft.

colored pencils and paper with balled up paper
Fear Not the FSD

Expecting yourself to be great, or much worse, perfect, on the first try takes the fun out of life. It creates tremendous pressure that will paralyze anything under its weight.

What if we took the pressure off ourselves by kicking our egos out of the room for a brief time so we could do a quick, downright ugly effort early on? Afterward, we leave it alone for a day and look at it later. When we return, and finished cringing over the mess we created, we look for ways to improve it then make those changes. Kicking the ego out of the room is key here, to allow ourselves be unabashedly imperfect. Another paradox is, when you attempt more of these imperfect efforts on certain things, you become better and better each subsequent effort. Over time, your initial efforts improve much more than other people’s initial efforts who constantly wait and wait and wait to start.

This is harder to do than it sounds… for some of us.

There are two individuals I’ve been closely associated with in my life who got so much done over the course of the week, it seemed they had more hours in the day than me, and everyone else I knew. One of them worked for me for a while. When I asked him how he did it, he joked, “I’m Mr. 80 Percent,” meaning, he never worried about perfection or even greatness. He knew an 80% effort most of the time is worth much more than the 100% effort you can rarely eek out and that “good enough” applied over time can have extreme value if you keep improving.

Green Sign Reading Good Nuff Rd
Don’t Underestimate the Value of “Good Enough” Applied Over Time… If You Keep Working to Improve

The other person was a close friend who got so much done in a day she made me feel like a slug. She is also extremely successful. Wanting to get into her mindset of how she approached her daily to-do list, I asked her a question couched from what I’d learned from my 80% co-worker:

“When you approach a task you have to do,” I asked one day, “is your mindset to get it done well, or quickly?”

With zero hesitation she said, “Get it done quickly.”

In other words…

Done is better than great.

And the second effort will be better and perhaps the third one will be great.

If procrastination has ever vexed you, maybe you should stop looking at bad first efforts as failures. They are only failures if you stop and never try again. If you keep going, you’ll see those bad efforts for what they truly are…

-Starting points

-Preliminary sketches

-Initial designs

-First shitty drafts

-Learning experiments

-Valuable practice

Needed experience

Perfectly imperfect

Knowing your initial effort may be bad and need some rework, and being okay with it, can be said another way…

Peace of mind.

If there is something you’ve wanted to accomplish for a long time, but have been afraid to start, give yourself permission to make a mess of it on the first try. Then make it better. Whatever big thing you want to accomplish, the world is waiting for you to get it…

Done.

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