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On the Contrary Confessions of a Procrastinator

July 6, 2001
Related Topics: Time Management, Featured Article
Let's say it's Friday morning and you have some type of creative project dueMonday. You've postponed the project for weeks because the right ideas weren'tforthcoming. But now the deadline is looming, you feel as if you've been livingon diet pills and black coffee, and you're trying to determine how to generatethe creativity you need in such a short time. Let's say the project is somethinglike, oh, a monthly column.

    Seeking an environment sure to stimulate creativity and concentration, you decide to join a friend in Vail for the weekend. While she attends a conference,you'll have long, uninterrupted hours of joyful productivity.

    You check into the hotel, your friend heads to her workshop, and you wanderaround the hotel room. You spin the dial for the ceiling fan, trying to figureout which direction makes the fan go slower. You look out the courtyard window,convinced you'd be more creative if only you had a river view. You eye yourfolder full of notes on the coffee table and feel like you're back in collegeavoiding a term paper on yellow journalism.

    White noise! That's what you need to stimulate the creative juices! You gatheryour notes and trek down to the lobby. On the way, you see a sign for the hotelspa, and before you know it, you're inquiring about a hot stone massage. Relaxation!That's what you need to be creative! You hear the price and quickly calculatethat you can purchase either a 50-minute massage or two pairs of on-sale shoes.You opt for the shoes, thank the tall blond woman behind the counter, and continueyour search for a creative work spot.

    Rounding the corner into the lobby, you see, of all things, a hotel library,complete with dark floor-to-ceiling bookcases and overstuffed chairs. That,for sure, is the best place to get your project done.

    You settle into a wing chair. It's drafty on your ankles, so you move to anotherchair. The pillow is too big, so you move once again. Finally, you settle ontoa couch and smile faintly at a middle-aged woman who is reading a paperbackon the love seat nearby. She seems upset with you for some reason.

    After reviewing your notes, you close your eyes and try to settle your mindin an effort to let the best creative ideas emerge. Instead, you become distractedby a conversation about a lost luggage tag.

    "What do you mean you lost it?"

    "I mean it was here a minute ago and now it's not. How hard is that?!"

    "Don't get snippy. You always get snippy."

    "I'm not snippy. I'm trying to get our luggage."

    You open your eyes. There must be an idea here. Laying blame. Finding fault.Miscommunication. These are excellent topics! You watch the arguing couple --both of whom are slightly overweight and dressed in fringed western wear --and your enthusiasm for the topic fades.

    You close your eyes again, take a deep breath, and silently question why somany hotels smell like coffee, chlorine, and new carpet. There's an idea: hotelscents! Oh jeez. Meeting Monday's deadline is going to be much harder than youthought.

    Opening your notebook, you force yourself to jot down several potential topics.Acquaintances versus friendship. Workplace eccentrics. Five things every managershould know. You look disgustedly at the brief list. Nobody wants to read aboutthese things.

    You pull out a fresh sheet of paper and, with great effort, jot down a fewmore ideas, one of which grows into an enormous half-page doodle involving flowersand lightning bolts. Tapping your pen on your thigh, you smile at the paperbackreader, who is glaring at you once again. What's her problem, anyway? Maybeyou need quiet time after all.

    You gather your materials and head back to the room, where you spend 20 minutes deciding where the most creative place would be. The couch? Too stiff. The bed?Too tempting. This is ridiculous. The environment has nothing to do with creativityand deadlines. Discipline does. Sit down and start working.

    Once again, you pull out your notebook and, what's that, a granola bar? Cool!You eat half of it, wipe the stiff, pebbly crumbs off the table and onto thefloor, and think about how difficult it is to come up with creative ideas onyour own. Brainstorming is so much easier in a group. All that energy and attitudeand adrenaline forces good ideas to the surface. This project would be so mucheasier if only you could work with other people.

    Or would it?

    You cock your head, look at your list of rejected ideas, and realize that everysingle good idea for any project you've ever done -- either alone or in groups-- has always been preceded by a long list of very bad ideas. Hard work. Frustration.The pull of an overpriced massage. You always feel these things when you facean important deadline. Haven't you learned that you can't rush the process?That creativity is not inherently easy?

    You hear the ring of the elevator in the hallway and it dawns on you that brainstorming-- both alone and in groups -- may be frustrating, but it's a necessary partof the creative process. Why? Because you never know when and where good ideaswill arise. The key is to keep going, like a child's wind-up toy, past the dread,past the doubt, and past the early sense of disappointment that always accompaniesan important project.

    If you keep working and quit looking for quick fixes, the work will get done.It always does. And usually without the benefit of a massage.

Workforce, July 2001, pp. 20-21-- SubscribeNow!

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