I am wrapping up an extremely intense week. Let me just say: generally intense weeks for me are also awesome so this is not me complaining, at all. This time it was orchestrating three episodes of an anime series which will premiere on Apple TV, scored by fantastic composer Steven Argila. Super excited to be a part of this project. This was what I call a Sprint Project. The materials come in and then it is go go go. There are no decisions about when to do the work because it’s happening immediately. It feels like the days schedule themselves. I love it.
However, a lot of our freelance life is not so straight forward. There is a lot of work to do but it is largely up to us to determine when it happens. Much of it is too easy to put off until later. Case in point: taxes. Tax day was April 15. Like most humans I was stressed about taxes. Figuring out how the new changes in law would effect me. Making sure that every deductible possible was taken care of as a freelance self-employed individual. Getting my past year’s financial details in order. This was a topic of discussion with many of my fellow creatives over the months as April 15 approached. I just kept putting it off while also stressing about it. Not a great combo.
Finally I decided to handle it. I sat myself down and dug in. The experience I had doing taxes was kind of hilarious to me because (you may not believe what I’m about to say): I enjoyed it! I found the whole experience really empowering. It was so helpful to sit down with my finances, get a clear snapshot of the previous year while considering what I wanted to improve upon moving forward and how I could go about doing so. When I finally submitted I was massively relieved. I had been carrying the stress of doing taxes around with me for so long. SO LONG! Why?!?!
It is incredible to me how much energy we waste worrying about what to do and when to do it. I was reading back over some old journals this week and they are filled with: I should be doing this, I should be doing that. There is a way to lift this burden. All it requires is answering some questions.
What do I need to do?
This is a great first question. But there are many different answers to this question, and many different levels you can direct that question to. Today? This week? IN LIFE? Choose different times to have a specific focus. Maybe at the beginning of the year you think about what you want to accomplish in that year. Then break it down to quarters, and then months. On a Monday – or perhaps on a Sunday night, that works a lot better for me – think about what that week is going to look like and what needs to happen.
However, right now, let’s deal with this on a day-by-day basis. I find that looking at the macro can be a easier but getting micro is when you really need to dig in. What do you need to do Today? Write those things down. You could do this in a List app or Evernote, but for me nothing beats listing it down on the pad of paper beside my midi keyboard. I write it in pen and then get the satisfaction of drawing a line through it when it is done. Feel So Good!
OK, check out that list. Is that really going to happen? Do you have time today to do all those things? Don’t be too ambitious. Now is a good time to edit. Set yourself up for success. You may get a call or email that throws your whole day off anyway. Make sure that you are writing a list that truly is achievable.
Once the list is written, I like to see if there are items that can be taken care of immediately. Anything on there that is a 1 – 5 minute task. Write that email, send someone that file. Get rid of all the quick stuff right off the bat. Once they are out of the way (I hope you really enjoyed crossing them off your list) find the next thing. Commit to that thing. Do it now.
When I am struggling with procrastination and feeling a bit emotionally low, there is often a temptation to half-arse the task. Do it while the TV is on, or combine it with something else more fun or easy. I think the reason we want do that is to make the thing we don’t want to do seem a little more palatable, and that’s understandable. However, it can create its own stress. When you allow yourself to fully focus on something, to be all in with the task, it is easier on your mind. Of course the quality of your work will also be higher when the task is the full focus of your attention.
But when you aren’t combining it with a distraction, it can be harder to just get started. So many studies on procrastination have showed that they aren’t the result of laziness or lack of willpower, the procrastination come from a place of emotional struggle, or depression. We don’t do the thing because we are afraid, insecure, simply worried about not being able to achieve it. Not doing taxes because of your fears of the reality of your financial situation. Not writing that piece and submitting it because of your fears regarding your abilities as a composer. This is real! It makes sense.
One way I combat these fears is I tell myself: just do it, right now, for 30 minutes. That’s all. Just sit yourself down for 30 minutes and make some progress on it. I lower the stakes. When you weigh the stress of doing the thing with the stress about not doing the thing, you have to ask yourself: is it worth the discomfort of putting it off?
Be Protective of Your Downtime
The worst side effect of procrastination is that when you are resting – watching TV, hanging out with friends, cruising the internet – you can’t fully enjoy it because you know you “should” be doing something else. And that’s not cool. We need to get more aggressive about protecting our times of rest. How great would it be if you could relax completely guilt-free? That is a really challenging place to get to for a freelancer. We always feel like we should be doing something. And technically we “could” always be doing something productive. But people, c’mon! We need our downtime! Our creative brains need time to recharge. We need to not just create, we need to Live! Have experiences that are beyond doing the work, so we actually have a life to draw from when we do create.
Recently I was coming back from an event after a full day of work. As I was heading back I was thinking over the options of work things I could do when I got home. Suddenly the thought occurred to me: I had been working all day. I should go home and just rest and then go to bed. That thought seemed foreign to me which was in and of itself concerning.
For a lot of us we work from home so there is not a geographical separation between work and home. But even for those who have that separation, there is often the laptop that travels with you and the phone we’re tethered to. It is too easy just to keep picking away at work throughout the day and into the evening; right up to bed time. Allowing work to bleed into every moment, without really being present with the work. But separation, clarity and being present can help us commit to what we are doing in the moment. This will bring relief.
We all have days when we feel completely overwhelmed. When the thought of sitting down and writing a list of what needs to happen that day can in and of itself feel too much. In those moments, allow yourself to only make a decision about Right Now. What do you want and need to do in this moment? Just make a decision about what happens now. Don’t worry about later. When all is said and done, that is all we really have control over. It can be such a relief to give yourself permission to be present and only handle this moment. Once you have done that thing – having some lunch, writing that email, working on that new cue you need to write, or having a rest – then you can take another breath and consider the next thing. And then you will simply be there, in that task, until you are ready to move on again.
I doubt I need to remind you of the fragility of life. I think we probably all have dealt with loss in one form or another. It may seem morose to talk about it but the reality is that we do need to treasure the time we have. I get so annoyed with myself when I waste time worrying about how I am spending that time, instead of just making a decision to do what I need to do in that moment and enjoying it! This is entirely within my control. It simply requires a decision. I want to get to a place where I can fully be in what I am doing, whether it is here writing to you, or playing with my cats, or composing music, or running a recording session. Life is hard, it has so many challenges and heartbreaks. But it is also stunningly beautiful, full of so many incredible moments. I hope I can be present enough to see as many of them as possible.