Contrary to popular belief, successful artists don't have an unlimited pool of inspiration & motivation. Success is achieved by overcoming the lack of motivation, and getting the work done anyway. So how to we actually get the work done when the beast of PROCRASTINATION is looming over us? First and foremost, we need to acknowledge that painting, drawing, or whatever artistic endeavors you pursue at their core, are habits. Habits shape our identity. To become a painter, is to simply become someone who paints. Each time you sit down and paint, is a vote toward the person you want to be: a painter. Furthermore, building a habit of working on your art builds neural pathways to make that task easier and easier. (1) I've constructed a list of steps to help you beat procrastination and actually work on your art.
1. Prioritize & Plan
Take the time to sit down and prioritize the tasks you need to for the week. It's easy to get caught up in doing the urgent tasks. They come flying at us with deadlines and are unavoidable. The important tasks that actually advance our lives end up on the back burner. Most don't have deadlines, and we have to actively plan & assign chunks of time in our day to get them done. Block an hour or two of your day a few times a week to commit to your important tasks, like painting.
Our goal is to achieve a flow state for deep work. In order to achieve this, we need to push past that 20 minute mark. 1-2 hours works best for me. After you've established the habit, you can increase the amount of time you intend to work if you like, but I've heard that after 3 hours of deep work, it's diminishing returns. You're better off working more frequently than for long periods of time. (2)
2. Remove Distractions
Now this one may seem obvious, but it warrants stating. Achieving a flow state for deep work requires your undivided attention. Set your phone face down out of arm's reach, ideally out of view or in another room. The messages and notifications can wait. You've blocked this time to focus.
3. Create a Ritual
A ritual, at it's core, is "an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner". I find this step crucial. Before sitting down to paint, I always follow a series of steps in the same order:
Ensure my studio space is clean
Brew a fresh cup of tea
Put on my "painting clothes"
Queue up an audio book or my favorite playlist
Mise en Place - Prepare all of my tools, supplies, & reference
Your ritual doesn't have to be like mine, in fact it will probably be more successful if you craft it yourself. Please borrow what works and leave the rest. A clean space is important to me as it falls under step 2, Remove Distractions. As does putting my headphones in, it removes other auditory distractions.
4. JUST DO IT
Now this step may feel like a joke, but it really is that simple. You can't hope to make progress if you don't actually DO IT. On days that it really feels like pulling teeth to get me into the studio I've found that finding the smallest actionable step to tackle first, then the next one, and the next one, helps me build momentum - especially if I'm working on a larger more daunting piece.
productivity = time spent + quality of time spent (3)
In order to be productive and get the ball rolling it's important to acknowledge that in fact, the time spent is more important than the quality. If you spend poor quality time with your attention divided, you'll make little progress. Whereas, if you don't spend the time, you won't make any progress. First you have to put in the time in order to improve the quality of it.
Have you ever heard that it's good to eat a frog every morning? Metaphorically, of course! It's the ideal of picking one uncomfortable task that will help you advance in life and do it first thing in the day before distractions & excuses come up. This applies to much more than just art, but in essence, JUST DO IT!
(1) "Atomic Habits" James Clear. 2019. book
(2) "The most important skill for improving your life" Better Ideas. 2020. video
(3) "Being Productive: Dissecting the Productivity Formula" Donald Latumahina. 2020. link