From the greenery of Evernote, to the gridiron of Google Docs, I’ve hustled for hours on end trying to structure the perfect process – one goal, one promise and one bullet point at a time.
With each attempt at crafting the perfect process, I’ve inadvertently fueled a primal fear that lives to feed on our confidence.
It is the same fear that masks procrastination with the warmth of good intention and the safety net we call planning.
Expectations, long term vs. short term goals, efficiency, routines – each is ammunition for fear’s greatest weapon against us: To keep our attention focused on our plans and processes instead of the work in front of us.
We tweak and tug at the edges of our work, refining and reshaping instead of building.
We talk and plan the way to our work with every intention of really starting tomorrow, next week, next month…
But once the dust clears and reality sets its feet, we are left with landfills of good intention to mark that we have passed.
Somewhere in these rotting, discarded declarations to start is the simple truth of why we feel compelled to bulletproof our approach.
We’re f***ing terrified.
Why we circle our work like vultures
Ironically, it is by focusing too much of our energy on the right structure, or the right approach, or the right path that we unintentionally create space between us and our passion.
All of this stopping and starting, this endless “structuring,” requires almost as much energy as the work itself. Yet each time we fail to be consistent in doing, our focus wanes and we return to the planning process, searching for more holes that need to be filled.
I’ve tried just about every productivity hack available, but to the task not a single one has helped me push through. With each failed attempt, I shuffled back to the starting line frustrated and exhausted from all of the effort expended to forge ahead, still convinced that I could somehow engineer easy into the process.
What I failed to realize was that my exhaustion was a result of fearing the work itself, and that I was crippling my efforts to move forward by introducing unnecessary complication.
I used up all of the creative energy needed to fuel my work on planning for my work. All of the systems I tried failed me because I failed to see the obvious.
I didn’t believe in my ability to get the work done.
I was terrified that if I didn’t bubble wrap my creative process in assurance, protecting it from failure, that the finish line would just keep retreating into the distance.
The straight truth is that you don’t need the safety of good plans to get good work done, nor do you need luck or a map to show you the way.
What you need to succeed is the guts to ditch the bullshit that distracts and disconnects you from the work that must get done.
For me, this has been an exercise in gradually cultivating subtle, positive shifts in both thought process and approach.
I can’t map this process out for you, because it is unique for each of us. But I can share the key shifts that have helped me build a better relationship with the work.
Parameters, Not Planning
I still value some aspects of planning and preparation, but focus my energy these days on the book ends, not a rigid structure or map for getting from A-Z.
I focus on understanding how my daily actions impact the evolution of my work. I focus on alignment with the present moment. I shave away the nonessential by being more intentional. On occasion, I take strategic pauses to ensure that my actions are aligned with the end goal.
I don’t obsess over how I get to finish line, only that I get to the work each day.
Permission to Fail with Grace
Failure is a popular commodity these days. Everyone loves the underdog who fights tooth and nail and gets up after getting knocked down, but few really love being the underdog.
In reality, failure is far less quotable and tweetable than it is on paper.
We don’t need to focus on the expectation of failure to learn how to push through it.
Learn to fail with grace by giving yourself permission to fail (and to sometimes feel like shit about failing). The underdog does not withstand the stinging slap by obsessing over the concept of failure.
He learns to coexist and get work done in the very teeth of it.
Seek Harmony in Chaos
Chaos is present in all forms of being, formless and persistent, yet we expend a tremendous amount of energy trying to eradicate it.
Instead of burning valuable energy, we must accept the chaos in our lives and try to learn from it. [click to tweet]
By learning to embrace its existence and still creating regardless, you begin to deaden or dull its impact.
The more we react to it, the more power it takes from us.
Craft > Consume
I’m convinced that consumption and learning has become our default stall tactic.
We can get pumped and excited and inspired by learning from other people’s successes, but we can also get bogged down with the weight of comparison.
Focus 90% of your energy of honing your craft and 10% on learning from others. Use what you learn from others to fuel your work, and nothing more.
Separate Creating and Editing
The obsessive need to edit our work as we go is a dangerous distraction. Instead of separating two competing focuses, we invite the two to break off the same bread.
The result (nearly 100% of the time) is frustration and lack of production.
Fear will drive you to the goal of perfection, time and time again. Embrace good enough as your bastion of forward movement by setting time aside for raw, unadulterated creating.
Multitasking is one of the greatest lies of the modern, industrialized world. While employers may value us more as tentacled beings capable of attaching several arms to several tasks at once, our creative work demands a much deeper focus.
Doing is intentional. Eliminate all distractions and desires to jump ship and work on other tasks. Close browser tabs, apps and turn off your phone – shave away anything unessential to focus 100% of your attention on the essential, one task at a time.
What You Really Need is Trust, Not Pixie Dust
There is no black magic or silver-bullet solution that can replace the purity of action.
Trust that you can do the work without the perfect environment or perfect amount of time or the perfect mindset. Trust that you already have the knowledge and the talent to push ahead.
Most importantly, trust that daily effort and attention are good enough for now.
From trust, we cultivate confidence and grace – two key components in learning how to navigate the chaos, plant ass to seat and do the work that we were meant to do.
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