Pro Audio Files

The Luxury of Procrastination

The more time I have the longer it takes me to do something. And usually the end result is not as good. Why that is I’m not really sure. But the whole idea seems to feed a tendency to procrastinate, something that many creative people share.

Somewhere deep in my subconscious there is a little voice saying something like, “you’ve got time, you work better under pressure” or “take care of every other unrelated mindless task first” or “don’t start until you feel inspired.” These are all excuses of course, and anyone in a creative field has their own set to fall back on.

I talk to my students all the time about the pitfalls of procrastination and how to avoid it, but it’s always easier said than done. Over the years I’ve developed some strategies based on experience and researching the subject that I thought I’d share.

The first step in avoiding this behavior seems to be recognizing it in the first place.What are you doing when you’re procrastinating? Are you mindlessly flipping through Instagram or Twitter drivel? Are you working on things that are not urgent or are unnecessary? Have you set aside a specific time to work, only to find that the time has expired and you didn’t even start what you intended? What were you doing? The next time you find yourself procrastinating, be aware of what you’re doing, instead of what you should have been doing.

The second step is to determine why you are procrastinating. As a composer, the idea of making one decision after the next is daunting. Every decision can be stressful and the search for a creative solution to a specific problem is often fruitless. Will the next piece live up to everything else I’ve written? Can I write anything new or original? The idea of beginning such an intimidating endeavor is enough for anyone’s mind to fabricate a multitude of alternative tasks that could be done instead, with much less pain. I’m sure mixing and mastering engineers feel similar emotions. What’s fascinating and vexing to me is that I’m typically procrastinating about doing something I really love to do — to compose. And ironically, if I don’t compose music for an extended period I become an angry and bitter person you really don’t want to be around.

So once you’ve determined that you’re procrastinating and why you’re doing it, you can start to develop personal strategies to circumvent the behavior. Here are a few I’ve developed and culled from various sources:

1. Create Your Own Urgency

The title of the article you are reading is “The Luxury of Procrastination.” It’s luxurious to have no deadlines, no impatient clients, and no financial repercussions for not doing what you should be doing. If you don’t have this luxury, your problem is somewhat easier to handle. Do the work or don’t pay the rent. But if the motivation is more of a long-term goal, such as becoming a successful independent composer or a sought-after audio engineer, then you need to create your own sense of urgency, and your own deadlines in order to practice your craft and accumulate a body of work.

Anyone that plays an instrument knows that it takes a daily commitment and years of dedication. I believe that’s true for any artistic endeavor or craft.

2. Negative Consequences

Negative reinforcement works at some level for some people. Think about the short-term and long-term consequences of not doing. Imagine yourself with a monotonous job and a mundane life.

3. Just Start

Recognize (and remember) that once you just start the thing you’ve been avoiding, it becomes much easier and is never as difficult as you imagined.

4. A Sense of Accomplishment

Think about how good it feels to complete the work and the accompanying sense of accomplishment. Think about why you love it in the first place.

5. Make It Easy

Make it easy to start. Think of a strategy that is either broad or mindlessly specific. For instance, in a broad sense for a composition you might consider the key or lack of a key, an overall duration, general structure, etc.

In a mindlessly specific sense, you might begin with determining pitches at random or based on some extramusical device.

Either way, relieve yourself of any decisions that seem paralyzing.

For a mix, you might simply do some file or track management, labeling, grouping, make some rudimentary decisions about plugins and signal path, listen to some reference tracks, etc. You may find that starting with these less stressful tasks will quickly get you in the zone.

6. Reduce Distractions

Reduce and/or eliminate any possible distractions in your working environment.

What constitutes a distraction is a very personal thing. For me, a cluttered work space is a killer for my creative instinct when beginning a new project. Organization at the outset has become a ritual for me. Once started however, my space accumulates clutter at an exponential rate including random scraps of paper, notes, cables, adapters, etc. — that’s just my process.

Of course cell phones and the internet in general are monster distractions. These are impossible to eliminate, so this is where discipline comes in. You must resist the urge to check email, Facebook, Twitter, or anything else. You will not miss anything that won’t still be there in a few hours. Turn that shit off. If you’re married or have kids it might be necessary to elucidate the necessity for uninterrupted solitude for extended periods of time while you’re working. I’m lucky enough to be married to an artist that understands this idea and expects the same consideration from me. But it’s not always so clear to a significant other or easy to explain.

7. Visualize

Visualization is one of the most powerful tools I know. It can be used in many different contexts. I have expanded the idea to include auralization.

Simply described, the process involves imagining in great detail (both visually and aurally) a situation or end result as if it has already occurred or is occurring in real-time. You might visualize a perfect performance with an appreciative audience, or playing back a perfect mix for a client, or even giving your acceptance speech at the Grammy’s.

It might sound a bit silly, but I’ve personally experienced some positive results.

If your mind has already experienced the success you’re seeking, you will unconsciously take the necessary steps to get there. The body follows the mind. Look at long jumpers before they begin their approach; they are visualizing a world record leap with perfect form. Try spending the first five minutes of every day visualizing that you already have a successful career and what that would be like in great detail. This simple exercise will set up an instinctual resistance to procrastination, because not doing what you must do, is contrary to the ideal you’ve visualized.

I’ll be honest, I still procrastinate from time to time. Human nature I guess. But it never makes me happy, and why I do things that don’t make me happy is an ongoing mystery.

I look forward to others sharing their own methods for combating this needless human condition.

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Philip Mantione

Philip Mantione

Philip Mantione is a composer, synthesist, guitarist, educator and sound artist active in the LA experimental music scene. His music has been presented in festivals, museums and galleries worldwide. His current project is TriAngular Bent, an electroacoustic trio featuring Don Preston (founding member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention) and circuit bending virtuoso, Jeff Boynton. Details at philipmantione.com


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  • I totally agree… from experience it seems like the more time I have to work on and think about a project, the longer it takes me to get started.

  • Voice Of Saruman

    Not too motivated to read this right now, but I really hope to get to it tomorrow.

  • Lee

    I just knocked out a 4 song demo EP for a band, from recording to final mix, in two weeks. I had a deadline. I have songs for my own band that have been recorded for over a year and I haven’t finished them. Not to mention a bunch of tracks/songs I converted to digital from my old 8 track reel to reel. I need to create deadlines for my own stuff.

  • Davemk

    This made me wanna puke. You feel procrastination because there’s always a part of you doubting in what you do when you do something TO succeed, TO feel gratitude and acceptance, TO feel good. Feeling good isn’t the end goal for anybody as it then would compromise the mere action itself. We do something only because we can’t not do something. The action is explained by its own existence (or lack of action – what you call procrastinating). This article is a totalitarian ethics that has been put onto one, who hasn’t even started asking its own questions.

    Anything that makes you comfortable and striving for something can’t possibly be something that is needed as one always already possesses what is needed and can only loose it or mask it with the crap that you’ve described.

    Was simply being sincere, no disrespect intended.

  • Aziraphale

    You may know Tim Urban’s blog at http://www.waitbutwhy.com? He gave the whole topic a delightful and sincere touch. Beware of the Instant Gratification Monkey! !!

  • Davemk

    Told ya – totalitarian. How could you delete my comment – I mentioned I didn’t intend to show any disrespect. Anyways, you guys are obviously making money here and that’s probably ok but please don’t put out things like this as it simply contradicts your true agenda and also giving some false advice to people who can’t think for themselves.
    I like ProAudioFiles for lots of useful utilitarian articles and vids. Also bought some stuff from Matthew and that helped a lot in what I was going for. But everyone has their own unique path and these ‘advice’ cannot possibly be of any use unless you try to force (or perpetuate) certain thought constructs on people. You guys are quite awesome without this stuff, please don’t make me go away.

    • I deleted it because it was disrespectful and condescending.

    • Davemk

      With all the respect, Dan, but what tools in determining what is ‘disrespectful’ have you used besides what I have provided when told you that it wasn’t disrespectful? If it was only your own projection into what those words ‘usually’ mean than we are clearly not on the same page.

    • Philip Mantione

      Hey Davemk,

      I agree that everyone has their own unique path and I don’t think my article states otherwise. This was simply an honest self-reflection and I took the liberty to extrapolate some strategies I’ve used to become more productive in my creative life to other creative endeavors. These are just ideas not dictoms, and I appreciate that The Pro Audio Files felt they were worth publishing. I suggest that what you call “false advice” is simply advice not applicable to your particular situation. That’s cool. No worries and I feel no disrespect. I’ve been around artists my whole life (including my wife, who’s a visual artist), and they are not typically perfectly adjusted people. They have self-doubt, they are hyper-self-critical and they procrastinate. And regardless, some of them are brilliant at what they do. The paradox I find in my own situation, is that I’m miserable if I’m not creating something, yet my mind, at least initially, will try to avoid the creative process. That being said, I’ve managed to create and produce over a dozen CDs and have had my music performed in festivals world-wide since 1996. If you have never suffered from procrastination I truly envy you. When I titled the article “The Luxury of Procrastination,” it was meant to be sardonic, in the sense that the act of procrastinating is not luxurious at all, but simply another human folly. In any case, thanks for reading it, and perhaps some of my other articles may be more useful to you.

    • Davemk

      hey philip. your musical career and/or how many cds you have made doesn’t show anything besides your pleasantville/happyland state that you eager to perpetuate and label the opposite states as human follies. these, therefore, can’t really be any indicators of how any other artist out there should aproach creativity and art. this is just what you and possibly tons of other people believe to be the ‘markers of success’ /how well respected you are, sought after, prolific, determined, passionate, fixed in your confidence, etc/
      just a thought /maybe not just thought/ experiment. try getting rid if all that, what’s left7.. who is philip mantione7 i would really appreciate 1 track of yours, if you could, that you feel really describes that.

      i bought your synthesis class btw, not sure if it’s gonna be of much use to me but hey how can i not support the well respected, long in the game musician

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