Creating, producing and delivering great work have to happen for us to achieve our goals and smash our targets. So what happens when energy is low? What happens when the output isn’t there? What happens when the ideas aren’t flowing and there just doesn’t seem to be the time to create? Or when we are held back by procrastination and perfectionism? While many things can halt great work, our own excuses shouldn’t be the blocker. Most people are making excuses and most of them aren’t real; they’re simply myths to be busted.
Deborah Hurwitz helps entrepreneurs move past procrastination and perfectionism. As a composer, conductor and recording artist whose projects have included Cirque du Soleil’s Iris, Jersey Boys and Sesame Street, Hurwitz knows about producing excellent work for a large audience under self-imposed pressure. She founded Productivity for Perfectionists in 2017 to help artists and entrepreneurs improve their creative output without sacrificing quality. Now an award-winning speaker, bestselling author, and certified master practitioner of transformational NLP, she coaches perfectionists into their genius through her online shows, programs and events.
I interviewed Hurwitz to find out the 6 productivity myths that might be getting in your way.
1. You need long blocks of free time
“It’s a myth that you can only be creative, strategic or visionary when you set aside hours of unstructured time,” explained Hurwitz, “and it can cause epic procrastination.” Hurwitz believes that focusing your attention on this mystical ‘block of time’ is unhelpful. The reality is that the block shrinks as work and admin tasks encroach, even before you start creating you’re already tired, then the time is often wasted going down rabbit holes of ‘research.’
“Postponing action until a block of time is available and then failing to make meaningful progress during that block causes negative conditioning. You’re teaching yourself to avert and avoid.” Neither are conducive to the output you seek. Rather than waiting for big windows of opportunity to produce, take the small ones. Snatch a few minutes in a waiting room to jot down some ideas, ignore the television in favor of freewriting. Wake up earlier to sculpt, paint or record. Find the time wherever you can make your priorities known.
2. Once you’re on a roll, don’t stop
Once you’re in flow, work will feel great. You’re typing away with ideas coming thick and fast and effortlessly producing page after page. This is your jam. But anxiety whispers that this feeling might go away. Perhaps it took so long to get here, you dare not stop in case you can’t rediscover the mojo. “Getting on a roll can feel great,” Hurwitz said, “but if you keep going until you’re burned out, you’ll experience temporary euphoria followed by the realization that you can’t pick up where you left off, or even figure out how to get there again.”
Hurwitz wants you to look at the bigger picture. “Worrying that you won’t be able to get in the zone again creates an anxiety loop.” Not only that, but flow state “can be intentionally generated through choice and practice.” Rather than treating flow like a rare sight, remember it can be abundant. Flow is administered in proportion to your level of calm. So chill out and know it’s coming.
3. You need to be inspired to do good work
In the creator’s version of chicken and egg, what came first, the inspiration or the output? The myth is that the inspiration starts the chain, but that’s often not the case. “You don’t get inspired to work, you work to get inspired,” Hurwitz explained. “Show up whether you feel like it or not.” “Waiting around for inspiration to strike leaves you powerless.” Powerless is no good. Productive and powerful is the goal.
Begin before the inspiration is there. Beat it to the starting line and know it’s catching you up. Perhaps you treat this like a game; in your lowest energy moments, see what is possible for you to create. If you can write a scrappy page even when you’re tired, cranky and hungry, imagine what you can do when you’re on form. Get to work first, the inspiration will follow exactly as it’s meant to.
4. You must know what you’re creating before you start
At the foot of the mountain, you can’t see the summit. It’s hidden behind loops and turns, trees and clouds. As you ascend, it becomes clearer, until reaching it is inevitable. No one canceled their mountain climb because they didn’t believe the top was there. They put one foot after another until they found it. “You don’t need to know the end before you start,” said Hurwitz. Instead, starting takes you on twists and tangents and your work evolves into the art it’s meant to be. This applies to proposals, manuscripts, presentations and articles. Every piece emerges from smaller ideas.
“Do the work, see the results, collect the data and iterate,” advised Hurwitz. “The ideas flow and your clarity emerges.” Many software companies have famously pivoted; gone in a completely new direction as more information became available. You too can pivot whenever you fancy. “The best ideas might not show up at first,” but soon you will know more. As Rumi put it, “when you walk on the way, the way appears.”
5. First drafts should be close to finished
If you looked at the first draft of nearly any great sales presentation, brochure, website or manuscript, chances are it would be different to the final product. Your first draft marks nothing more than all of your ideas in a mess on the page. There is no one whose work wouldn’t benefit from an editor. First drafts are universally scrappy, so yours can be too. Terry Pratchett describes the first draft as, “just you telling yourself the story.” Tim Ferriss edits everything he produces three times, once for himself, once for the reader, once for the haters.
If you’re not embarrassed of your earliest work, that itself is an embarrassment. It means you haven’t progressed. It means you haven’t upgraded, fine-tuned and edited, all of which are necessary. Almost no one writes in a coherent way first time. Almost no one speaks in perfect soundbites. Humans are messy, scattered machines that need recalibrating every so often. Your first draft can be terrible and still turn out wonderful.
6. You’re too slow or it’s too hard
Believing you’re too slow is a line steeped in comparison. Too slow compared to whom? Hurwitz works with professionals, “who believe it’s supposed to be easier. They think they’re not doing it right and that others are totally on top of their game.” They are stuck in comparison, forgetting we are all different. Hurwitz reminds her clients that, “being productive when you’re creating is not easy, and everyone goes through these challenges.” Rather than this feeling being permanent, she advised, “you get better with consistent effort and good habits, and the right tools and practices make all the difference.”
The pen, the keyboard, the few minutes spare. The spark of an idea or the commitment to begin. The tools need not be fancy and just one might be enough. Slow progress is still progress. Easy is not the goal, feeling challenged means you’re getting somewhere. Fast and easy refers to McDonalds, not the Mona Lisa. Be comfy with slow and hard so you can move past procrastination and get producing.
Believing the productivity myths, said Hurwitz, “creates a painful downward spiral of energy that my early mentor, Doctor Gina Hiatt, called the punishment paradigm.” This is where initial “perfectionism and procrastination lead to paralysis,” a cycle that is tough to escape from once its engrained. Believing that everything has to be perfect in order to begin is a damaging belief that will keep reappearing, until all progress has been stolen. Believing, however, that you only need pockets of time in which to execute, that your first draft can be rubbish and you become inspired once you begin on the path and not before, could have you churning out one masterpiece after another.