Are you a creative perfectionist procrastinator too?

The Last Edition, TLE, Oxford Brookes Students Union Magazine 1993-1995

My TLE magazines, 1993-95

Have you got something creative that you should be getting on with but are putting it off?

It was when I was running the student magazine, The Last Edition (or TLE for short) at Oxford Brookes University that I first found myself operating at a wholly different type of time and project management level.

And not because I wanted to.

There was simply too much to do and way too much information to take in. I had to learn to speed read and speed act to get everything done. I realised that I could no longer be a perfectionist, or more to the point, I could no longer be a creative perfectionist procrastinator.

Being a creative perfectionist procrastinator is a really unproductive position to be in. Most creative people fall into one or more of its three traps at some point. It’s a situation of inaction categorised by ‘not being ready to act’ due to these damning conditions:

  • Not wanting to begin a task right now because you know it will take more time to complete, or at least to get stuck in to, than the time you think you have available now. What’s frightening about this is that sometimes we can write of whole days due to this feeling and yet each day has the same number of maximum hours.
  • Not wanting to begin the task because you don’t feel like it at the moment. The conditions don’t feel right, you’re too tired or not motivated. We try to convince ourselves that we might feel like it later on in the day, or that evening, or after a cup of coffee or after some other postponing condition.
  • Not wanting to begin the task now because you don’t have all the information, skill or equipment to get going with. This often leads into some irrelevant research which, although useful, isn’t good for motivation because at the end of the day nothing appears to have been achieved. This feeling is also a great trigger for spending both money and time looking for and buying extra resources and equipment in a vain hope that the new inventory will feel like progress has been made. It never does.

What happened when I was working on the magazine meant that I could no longer indulge in the luxury of those feelings.

When you have a task that is not creative such as physical jobs like digging a hole or administration tasks like tidying up, filing, reading emails, watching tv or surfing the internet, you don’t have to make qualitative decisions. Any decision that you may need to make with be fairly didactic, yes or no, stop or go etc. That’s why these tasks can still be performed when you’re mentally tired. Sometimes we call them ‘mindless’ tasks which is a bit erroneous but in a sense sets them as the opposite to mind-full tasks that require a different level of concentration and consciousness. Writing, drawing and designing require this different level of mindfulness. It’s a state of mind we don’t often find ourselves in so we treat it as special and feel it requires special conditions (cue the three traps described above).

So when it came to designing the cover for the magazine, writing the editorial or doing some illustrations for it I wanted, really wanted, to evoke those three excuses. But I couldn’t. The time pressures of print deadlines meant that if I waited until conditions were ready and right, there would be no magazine. Instead I had to allocate time to each task and get to it and get on with it. Oh how I longed to do more research, more practice, more considered effort. How I longed to re-do the illustrations or re-write the articles. But there just wasn’t time.

The result was a four-weekly 38 page magazine that I edited for two years and 19 issues.

If I had not managed to use the time I had, to do the tasks whether the conditions felt perfect or not, to write whether I felt like it or not, there would not have been a single issue.

If you want the result, whatever the creative project you are embarking upon, make sure that any delay is based on real tangible problems that need to be solved, and not one or more of the three creative perfectionist procrastinations that we can all to easily fall for.

The best advice is a cliché: Do it now. Do it to the best of your ability, but do it now.

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9 comments on “Are you a creative perfectionist procrastinator too?

  1. Good advice Ayd.

    I like to adhere to the old Ziggism – keep your eyes on the prize.
    It is also helpful to me to look back at past successful completions.
    And finally, remember that you can always change it later.


  2. Yes, I recognise (and admit to) ALL of those! It definitely helps to have a deadline, even if it’s self-imposed. But if you commit to somebody else you’re more likely to ‘just get on with it’. Right, I’m off to get on with something I promised to do today 😉


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