If you’ve read any books on writing, then you know that the number one problem writers face is sitting down to write (also known as procrastination). The second biggest problem writers face is a fear of publishing their work (also known as perfectionism).
I’d argue that this inability to get started and push out content is the biggest issue that creatives in general deal with. Whether you’re a podcaster, a YouTuber, a musician, or a designer, what typically holds you back is procrastination or perfectionism.
If I’m wrong, email me telling me I’m wrong. But if you’re a creative person, ask yourself why you haven't been pushing out content at the frequency that you’d like: is it because of your laziness to get started or a fear of judgment?
If you answered yes to either of those questions, keep reading.
Procrastination and perfectionism go hand in hand. We spend so much time ruminating on the best approach to a task that we never get the task done. Therefore, to conquer one—procrastination—increases the likelihood that the other—perfectionism—may be conquered.
There's a parable in the book Art & Fear that may help clarify this topic:
“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the ‘quantity’ group: fifty pound of pots rated an ‘A’, forty pounds a ‘B’, and so on.
“Those being graded on ‘quality’, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an ‘A.’ Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the ‘quantity’ group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the ‘quality’ group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”
To summarize, the best approach to our creative work is to focus on quantity over quality. I've heard this from countless successful YouTubers, podcasters, writers, and even salespeople: we just need to get in the habit of showing up and working.
Even if our work isn't good, over time, we'll tweak our process. We'll make it better. But if we're not showing up because we're a procrastinator or perfectionist, we'll have nothing to edit.
You can't edit a blank page.
A great method to get started on tasks is The Two-Minute Rule. The strategy is this: Tell yourself you’re going to do two minutes of that thing you’re avoiding, no matter how bad you’ll do it. Examples include writing for two minutes, recording yourself talking to a camera for two minutes, speaking into a mic for two minutes, or drawing for two minutes.
Don’t worry about perfectionism. Just set a timer for two minutes and work until the timer goes off.
Typically, you'll work beyond the two minutes and generate momentum. If you don't, stand up and go back to living your life. However, I bet that once you start, not worrying about the outcome but more about the process of getting the ball rolling, you’ll eventually produce something you can work with.
I came up with The 1/4 Rule last week. To try it out, I want you to create an achievable, creative goal for yourself right now.
Here are some examples:
Once you have it written down, divide it by four. In the case of writing one thousand words per day, break the number down to 250 words.
Now ask yourself, “Could I realistically achieve that?” If the answer is no, break the number down again.
Now we’re left with 62.5 words. The average person has a typing speed of forty words per minute. This means that in two minutes, you could potentially have written eighty words—eighty words that can now be edited.
If you can stop thinking so much and start doing the actual work your creative venture requires, you’ll immediately get over your procrastination and perfectionism. But if you still find yourself worried about others finding your work bad or are over-editing to the point of diminishing returns (more on this topic in another article), then I suggest you go to any famous YouTube channel and filter the videos to find the first ones that were uploaded. There's a good chance the audio and video quality are terrible.
If you’re a writer, use this tool to look at archived sites from the web. Type in your favorite blog and go back in time a few years. I bet you’ll find something that looked bad when it launched.
Everything starts out ugly, and that’s okay. It’s part of the process. You just need to get started.
As you keep taking action, with time, you’ll notice that both your procrastination and perfectionism will soon fade away.