Getting Art Done
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Getting Art Done

What’s the difference between attention to detail & procrastination?

You want to do good work. But you also want to get that work done. If you spend too much time trying to perfect something, you may never get it done. Yet if you don’t have attention to detail, your work won’t succeed.

How do you find the balance?

I’ve procrastinated through analysis paralysis many times. And I’ve put out lots of sloppy work in my day.

I can definitively say that I’ve been better off putting out the sloppy work than I have by getting stuck in analysis paralysis. The sloppy work is better than no work at all. The sloppy work is one step toward good work.

I’m not too modest to say that I’ve put out lots of good work in my life. None of it is perfect, but some of it is good. That took attention to detail.

So as I bare down to finish my third book, I’m naturally thinking about how to strike the balance between attention to detail and analysis paralysis.

My book is tentatively called Getting Art Done, so it would be ironic if I were to never get it done. I like writing the book that I myself need to read, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise, just ironic.

This is the danger in striking this balance. The fear of overanalyzing your art can block you up and cause you to never make that art real.

Now that I’ve put out a couple of books, this fear is much less intense. I know How to Write a Book, just like I know how to Salsa dance. Some days are better than others, but I can do it.

And I think I’ve found the balance. This is how to know whether you’re procrastinating through analysis paralysis, versus simply having attention to detail.

It comes down to two questions:

  • Have you done something like this before?
  • Can you envision the steps required to finish?

Have you done something like this before? If you’re trying to write your first book, and you’ve never published a blog post, you’re probably in over your head.

There’s a first time for everything, but there are also smaller versions of doing most things. Putting a demo on Soundcloud is a smaller version of recording an album. Writing a short story is a smaller version of writing a novel.

We tend to dream beyond our current abilities. We’d be pretty boring if we didn’t. I called this phenomenon “The Fortress Fallacy” in my latest book, The Heart to Start. We envision a fortress, when we should first build a cottage.

Can you envision the steps required to finish? If you haven’t done something before, you’ll have a hard time envisioning the steps required to finish. If you have a hard time envisioning the steps required to finish, you’ll have a hard time giving yourself the motivation to make it happen.

Since there’s a first time for everything, you’re naturally going to have to learn something new to make your work real. But you’ll be better off if you already have done some of the steps before on other projects.

When I published The Heart to Start it was my second time writing a book, but it was my first time self-publishing. When I recorded the audiobook, I had recorded myself reading my own writing many times for my podcast, but it was my first time producing a full audiobook.

When you’re learning something new, it’s good if you can isolate what you have to learn in order to get it done. If you can get help on some parts, you can learn other parts.

This principle goes for everything I’ve managed to do. When I wrote Design for Hackers, I had the help of a publisher to get the book out, but at least I had written before. When I launched my first online course, I had at least cut my teeth on marketing and selling digital products as an affiliate.

Try it for yourself. If you’re working on a creative project that’s taking a long time, ask yourself these two questions: Have you done something like this before? and Can you envision the steps required to finish? If the answers to those questions is “no,” you risk procrastinating. If the answers are “yes,” then you could just be practicing attention to detail.

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David Kadavy

Author, ‘Mind Management, Not Time Management’ https://amzn.to/3p5xpcV Former design & productivity advisor to Timeful (Google acq’d).