I posted a Q&A video last week and received the following question from a subscriber.
I just watched your Q&A video and loved your answer to your final question about getting out of your head and working on content. I have been having this issue for a year and a half or so trying to write and make videos, but then thinking too much about it and never writing, well anything, which sucks cause it’s what I want to do for a living and when I do write something I am proud of myself. I liked your advice about making a list and the idea of making something slowing things down. I guess my question is how do you make sure you do something on your list, and not just think…well, it’s not the END of the world if I don’t do this today.
First of all, I would make sure that you’re distinguishing between your wants and commitments. I want to write in that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, sitting on the back porch, smoking a pipe in my tweed jacket, intellectual pursuit-of-the-mind kind of way. But the world of my wants is THE weakest place for anything to live. I know the type of person I am, and my ‘wants,’ during an average day, get done in the order of which ones require the least amount of effort. It’s when I can elevate a ‘want’ to a commitment that it has any real chance of getting done. I have tried to commit to getting a video out weekly. I come up short regularly, but that commitment is far more powerful for me than just wanting to get a video a week done.
More concretely, if I’m resisting doing an item on my list, it’s because the item is too big. So, for instance, I never put, “Write next Buffy Guide script,” on my list because that is hours and hours of work. That isn’t ONE to-do item. It’s 15 or 20. Here is an actual example from Todoist (my to-do list software)
Of course, however, you would choose to break down the piece of writing you’re working on is fine. The key is that the to-do list should be granular enough that the next item doesn’t require any extra project-management thought on my part.
However, even then there are days when I don’t grab the next to-do item. Those days are getting fewer, but they still occur. It’s the: “I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna,” problem. It took me a LONG time to realize that, most of the time, motivation FOLLOWS action, not the other way around. For example, if a person wants to start running, they don’t think, “I’ll run sometime tomorrow,” or, “I’ll run sometime this week.” Because, what happens is they sit around waiting until they FEEL like running, and until you’ve been doing it for a couple of months, no one ever FEELS like running. Running is miserable until you’re good at it. And if you make the mistake of asking yourself, “Do I WANT to run right now?” you’re kind of already screwed. Exertion is exerting. Work is work.
The key, when I’ve had success running, is to schedule the exact time of the run, put my running clothes out on the bed and, when the time comes, put them on, put my headphones on, and get out the door. Ten minutes into the run, I suddenly FEEL like running. But, almost every time, any excess of thought DOOMS my chances of getting out the door.
It may seem counter-intuitive given how much thought is involved, but I find success in writing very similar. First, I take my to-dos in the morning, and I block them out in my calendar. At this point, I have SOME raw sense of how long each step in the video creation process takes, so I go by those estimates. Here’s what an average day might look like:
All told, it takes me 20–30 minutes every morning to get everything out of my head into the to-do list and blocked. And with everything in the calendar, I don’t have to think, “What’s the next thing I’m supposed to be doing right now?” Because just having to have that thought comes dangerously close to activating, “Do I WANT to organize the outline right now?” Because, of course, I don’t. Our commitments are SO much harder to fulfill than our wants. Instead, I look at the time, and I look at the current block on the calendar, and I grab the next item there is and dive in. My schedule is my tour guide throughout my day. It tells me what I’m doing next, so I don’t have to think about it.
Even then though, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. I am a distraction addict and a chronic procrastinator. So, I’ve found several tools to try and alleviate and manage that problem as well. I have an application installed on my computer called Cold Turkey: https://getcoldturkey.com/
It blocks distracting websites for a set time during the day. But BE CAREFUL. The program is tenacious. If you install it, make sure you’ve gone through the list of sites it blocks carefully before you fire it up for the first time.
Those same guys also make a program called Writer, which blocks EVERYTHING on my computer except the document I’m working on. When I activate it, I choose to either block things for a set time or until I’ve written a certain number of words. I’ve found that very helpful during particular script crunches: https://getcoldturkey.com/writer/
Then, of course, there is the problem of my mobile devices — Tablet, phone, TV remotes, etc. I found a time lock safe that I can stick them in when I need to. Set a timer and the safe locks up until the timer is complete: https://amzn.to/2L13HV2
Mostly though, I think I’ve made the most significant strides in making stuff, through coming to accept that I am my own worst enemy and that I can’t counter all my self-hatred and fear-of-failure with MORE thought. Arguing with my fear of failing empowers that fear with some validity. As in there must have been SOME truth to the fear to bother arguing with it. Anxiety is the heat given off by the friction between my fear of failing and my resistance to it. Instead of fighting it now, my best approach is always to let it go; however, I can do that. Whether through meditation, or focusing on the present, or aphorisms, or looking for work to inspire mine or ANYTHING that gets it done.
-In 100 years we’ll all be dead.
-Strong is fighting.
-If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.
-It’s just life.
Eventually, you locate that muscle enough times you learn to un-tense it by choice alone. And then start writing.
Hope that helps.