Many have accepted procrastination as a social norm that allows people to do things at the last minute. However, procrastination, when tolerated, can become very disruptive, especially to our creativity. Writer, speaker, actor, and creativity and productivity specialist, Samantha Bennett shares the secrets to help us become more productive and avoid procrastination—all within just fifteen minutes a day. Before that, she first lets us in on the problems most creatives have and how we can get past the excuses we make on a daily basis. She then gives out some concrete tips that we can do to accelerate our creativity past procrastination.
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Accelerating Creativity Past Procrastination With Samantha Bennett
We are talking to Sam Bennett. She’s a writer, a speaker, an actor, a teacher, and a creativity and productivity specialist. She’s the author of the bestselling book, Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day, which Seth Godin called an instant classic essential reading for anyone who wants to make a ruckus. Her bestseller is Start Right Where You Are: How Little Changes Can Make a Big Difference for Overwhelmed Procrastinators, Frustrated Overachievers and Recovering Perfectionists. Sam, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much.
What makes this an area of passion and interest to you?
It was completely inadvertent. I started out as an actor. I was one of those kids who did all the plays in school and went to theater camp and studied theater in college. Eventually, I left college at Northwestern because I got a job offer in The Second City and that seemed more fun. It absolutely was. My whole adult life, I had that actor’s life of a lot of different jobs, gigs, projects, shows, auditions and part-time this and part-time that. Along the way, I got interested in this question of how do creative people make decisions? Why do creatives procrastinate? When you could do anything, what do you do? You’ve got a million ideas. What do you do when you could have a podcast? You could do speaking events. You could stand on a corner with a sandwich board. How do you know what to do? It’s not just artists that face this issue.
How do you know what to do, but also how do you stay focused on any one thing? When you’re creative, I know that I have all these ideas that come in all the time and they’re disruptive.
You get to the middle of the idea where it’s boring and you don’t want to do it anymore or you get to the end where it looks like it might happen and then you totally freak out and self-sabotage.
What do we do?
The key is a couple of things. One is to remember that there is no right way to be an entrepreneur, a parent, a friend or a creative person. There’s only your way. Stop looking for some authority from on high to say, “Here’s your blueprint. Do it this way.” First of all, for most of the highly creative people I work with, if I gave them a blueprint, a roadmap of a four-step plan, they would turn it over and start doodling on the back of it. It’s not going to work. You need something flexible that’s going to go with your life because we’re all managing life. We’ve all got a lot of stuff going on. It’s not so much that I’ve got some amazing system and everybody should do things my way. What I do have are some amazing systems by which you can figure out what your system is. You can figure out what your priorities are, what your desires are and what your natural creative rhythm is. When you are doing the things you want to do in the way that you want to do it, it’s not that hard to be productive. You don’t have to subscribe anymore to those excuses about why creatives procrastinate?
That’s when we get into the flow. Doing what you want to do in the way that you want to do it. What came up for me was I don’t consider myself creative, but when I work with some people who are creative, I feel like we’re all good at justifying why we’re procrastinating. We have such great excuses about why creatives procrastinate and they might be true, but they’re not getting us the results we want. I have a feeling that people lean back on, “I’m a creative, that’s just the way it is.” We tolerate and accept this inability to focus, scattered, procrastination and then rushing to get it done at the last minute. What do we do about the mindset that we use it as an excuse to stay where we are and stay stuck?
First of all, everyone’s creative. Creative is different than artistic. Everyone is creative but not everyone is artistic, not everyone is musical. Everyone has an area of creative genius, which I always think of as an area in which you have a natural inclination. You’re interested in it. You read all the books and you see all the movies. If there’s that thing going on in your town, you’re there. Whatever the thing or childcare or cooking, you’re extra interested in it. You have an extra natural ability to problem solve in that area. It’s those areas where you’re like, “I don’t know but it seems obvious to me that you would just.” I have a client who does home and office organization for people, particularly for men who would like to date women and not have their apartments frighten them. We’re talking about her marketing and her building this business. She said, “I don’t know why. I’ve always been able to do it. As a young person, I could walk into any room and be like, ‘That has to go over there. That has to go over there. What is that? Get that out.’” She has that mind that can do that. You have that too. Everyone does.
I was thinking more of artists like actors and painters. I agree, we’re all creative and if we don’t see that, then that’s the first place to recognize that we are for sure. I can find the excuses come more easily to people to say, “I’m a creative. That’s not the way I think,” when I try to bring systems and structures. That’s the point that I was getting to is how do those people get out of their own way with those justifications of, “That’s just the way I am?”There's no right way to be a creative person, only your way. Stop looking for some authority from on high to say, here's your blueprint. Click To Tweet
My first question would always be, “Is this actually a problem? Are you not getting things done?” This whole like, “I don’t get anything done until the last minute.” Nobody gets anything done at the last minute. That’s how we know when it’s time to do something because it’s the last minute.
I don’t know about that.
It’s true. My sister does all her Christmas shopping in August. For her, August is the last minute.
Whatever you define to be the last minute.
Whenever the internal pressure kicks in where you’re like, “I’ve got to get this done.” This whole, “I’ve got a presentation on Monday and it’s Sunday night. I haven’t even started.” Let’s break that apart a little bit because chances are you have actually started. It’s been spinning around in your mind. You knew you had the deadlines. It’s been cooking and by the time you sit down to do it, especially for a lot of highly creative people, they can write and edit at the same time. They know what they want to do. It’s not that big a deal to knock it out in a couple of minutes. This thing of like, “I’m not doing it the way the teacher said,” in the third-grade which was like, “You better start six weeks in advance, you better do a lot of research and you better have a lot of time to proofread.” For a lot of us, that’s not helpful. Some people like to work that way, piecing it out bit by bit. For other people, that mad dash at the last minute, the pressure of the adrenaline, it’s what gets things done. If it’s not getting in your way, I would question whether or not it’s a problem.
I want to add something to that when you asked that question and for the people who are reading, it’s also, “Is it a problem for other people?” It might not be a problem for you, but how is it affecting those around you if it’s always the last minute? Is it creating a problem in general for anyone else as well?
You can start to leverage that. I do very well giving myself false deadlines.
I do too. I feel that’s the best way to get myself moving.
Deadlines have beauty and magic in them. Don’t be afraid to put a date, send out the invitations for the play reading and book the gallery. This is another way to get past your excuses. Make a public commitment that involves time and money. Invest in a course, hire a coach, book the hall or whatever it is. Call ten friends and say, “I want you over at my house for the Saturday afternoon because I’m going to read you these three poems come hell or high water.” A little social accountability, a little deadline, a little investment, you’ll probably do it and you’ll be terrified because everyone is, because it’s horrible. After it’s done, you’re going to feel amazing.
Because you did it and you did it when you said you were going to do it.
We build esteem and trust with other people by keeping our promises to them. We build self-esteem and self-trust by keeping our promises to ourselves.
My big thing is I don’t know why they built a snooze button onto the alarm clock because that starts you out in the day not following through with your commitments. How do you think something like that impacts somebody’s ability to follow through in general?
I think that waking up time, particularly for the sensitive person, the overworked person, the highly creative person, is a very valuable time, that space in between sleeping and waking. I always say, first of all, get yourself out of the bedroom. My preference is all electronics out of the bedroom, but definitely your cell phone. People are like, “I use it as an alarm.” Get a clock. They still sell them. You can get an alarm clock that works. It’s fine.
Giving yourself back a moment to come to wakefulness, to be in that space between dreaming and waking, that moment when you’re not anybody. You’re not anybody’s boss or mom. You’re just there. That’s a very valuable time to really extend that time for yourself. Take that time to do some deep breathing before you even open your eyes. That’s what I do. Some of my best prayer work is right there curled up. Get to the cool side of the pillow. Cuddle next to your sweetheart if you’ve got one. Stretch and allow yourself to come into the morning with some sense of self and calm and a little wispiness from the dreams that are still hovering around you. There is nothing on your phone that cannot wait for twenty minutes while you come to work that comes to life as a civilized person.
Do not touch that phone in the morning. It puts you into responsive mode.
You’re letting everybody else set your agenda. You’re letting everybody else’s thoughts crowd out your own.
That’s my perspective that I never thought about. For me, if this is the time I said I’m going to get up, then I’m going to get up. When I would hit the snooze button as my boyfriend moved in and he’s a snoozer. I started to snooze and I’m like, “This doesn’t feel good because I felt other areas of my life I’m putting excuses and stretching things out.” It’s an interesting perspective to see as also a moment where you’re not anybody’s boss, mother or partner. You’re just you and you can come into that moment. I do like to journal first thing in the morning and I do a gratitude journal. I guess that’s my space to do that. I want to open up to the fact you could still lay in bed, but it’s you’re in that waking time. You didn’t hit snooze and say, “I’m not getting up.” You’re intentionally and purposefully using that space. I honor that and whatever way somebody does that is important in the morning.
I don’t have snooze because I don’t have that on my clock, but I will set if there are some options or if I’m not sure how I’m feeling. If I’m not sure I want to wake up right away, I will set multiple alarm clocks. Let’s say I’d love to get up at 6:30. I have to be up by 7:00 and if I’m not up by 7:15, something’s wrong. I’ll set three different alarms knowing that if I turn off the first one, it’s not seven minutes later, there’s another half hour of restfulness available if I want it.
That’s good accountability. I know people who are consistently late for things. That’s something for them to consider. If you’re reading online and you have a late issue, you want to be more in integrity with yourself and respecting other people, that’s a great thing to do. Set your clock ten minutes past or put those things into places like backup alarms and things like that to support you to be on time.
I also like what you’re saying about looking at the habitual patterns of your day-to-day life and saying, “Is there a destructive pattern hidden inside this?” Mine’s not so much getting up and starting and snoozing. Mine’s more at the end. I’ll take things from 1 to 99 and then maybe not quite push it all the way over to 100. I do CrossFit because I’m an unbelievable bad-ass and it’s so hard. I’m so terrible at it. It’s crazy. Sometimes they’ll send you out for a run and I would find myself doing a run, then you get to the steps of the gym, the box and I’ll stroll up the steps. I’m like, “No, Sam, run all the way in.” When I’m doing the dishes and then there’s one mug left, I’m like, “Do all the mugs. Do all the dishes.” I’m keeping my awareness around finishing, completion, pushing it all the way and not letting myself off the hook of like, “It’s the last second. It doesn’t matter.” It’s like, “Do you feel that way about the screenplay too?”
They do turn into patterns and it’s important that heightened awareness that we need to create around even those little things. It may seem not a big deal to run up the steps or to walk up the steps. You did this amazing workout, but it does. That’s powerful.
Certainly, how you do one thing is how you do everything. The other thing too, we’re talking about excuses and when you let yourself off the hook. This idea of “I’m an artist. I need freedom. You can’t pin me down. Don’t tuck me in. I can’t be in a box.” All of that is totally true, for people who have that rebel person inside of them, that inner teenager that’s like, “I’m not going to and you can’t make me,” even when it’s something that’s near and dear to your own heart.
If you know yourself to be one of those people who’re a little resistant to authority, your own authority or somebody else’s authority, what I find helpful is to frame it up as a character issue. What kind of person do you want to be?
If you’re not showing up like that, then you’re not in line and in integrity with your values and who you say you are.When you are doing the things you want to do in the way that you want to do it, it's not that hard to be productive. Click To Tweet Is all this cultivated chaos bringing you freedom or is it bringing you chaos?
I like that as well. I use that a lot for myself too. I have certain principles that I follow that define who I am that I believe and it makes things so much easier. The decision is made in terms of how I’m going to respond in those situations because it’s a principle. One of the things is I like to be the example. If it’s a matter of someone being the bigger person, I’m going to do it and I’m not going to do it necessarily for that person. I’m going to do it for me because that’s what I stand for. If there’s a choice between this thing or the right thing, I’m going to do the right thing because that’s part of how I define myself and then I don’t even think about it. It’s hard but it’s easier to have that principle that supports it.
If any of you out there have not done any values clarification or personal mission or however you want to frame that up for yourself, it is so worth it. It’s a real time saver on decision-making. For The Organized Artist Company, our values are creativity, authenticity and transparency, kindness, good humor and something I call the perfect word, which has to do with extreme literacy and being very deliberate in our language. I have a good example.
I’ve got somebody who went back on a contract she made with me. She was going to deliver services, I paid her. She’s decided not to deliver those services. What is the creative, kind, good-humored, literate way to solve this problem? I’m not going to start out all harsh, bang on the table and call my lawyer. We have boundaries. We don’t just go like, “There goes $4,800.” That’s not kind to any of us. This is another one too is looking for the wins. What solution benefits everyone? It benefits me, you, the parking guy and all of us.
We’ve got some good tips there to help people who might get stuck in their excuses. You talk about the fifteen-minute solution. Let’s go into that. What are some concrete tips that people can towards accelerating creativity and avoiding that procrastination?
You notice we get everything done for everybody else all day long. The thing that matters most to you, the thing that you know would make the biggest difference in your life, in your business, in your career, somehow it falls off the list. Here’s my solution. I’m on a global mission to make everybody do this. You all can take the pledge fifteen minutes a day. Every single day before you check your email, spend fifteen minutes on the projects that matter most to you. You can do it while you’re still lying in bed.
It can be just the thought.
It can be daydreaming, doodling, making notes, stretching, dancing, singing, playing guitar or writing, whatever it is that lights you up inside. If you’re not sure, then make an experiment of it. Make a list of 100 different things and pick a new one every morning. Here’s what I know, because we get into this thing of like, “I can’t spend time on my projects. That would be selfish.” No. What’s selfish is you walking around, stressed out, exhausted and with no sense of humor and the rest of us have to deal with you like that. When you spend fifteen minutes on the projects that matter most to you, you get that same smugness that a person gets when they go to CrossFit. You will start walking through the rest of your day like, “I spent fifteen minutes on my novel this morning. What did you do?”
It creates that momentum. You’re already in motion. You feel good when you start out the day.
You’re going through the whole rest of your day with a light in your eyes. You’re calmer and you’re less reactive. You can listen better. You have better ideas. We love that version of you. Spend and invest that and there are all kinds of studies that say the way you spend the first hour or so of your day has an exponential effect on the rest of your day. Take that fifteen minutes. First of all, you will be shocked at how much a person can get done in fifteen minutes. It’s amazing.
When you put your mind to it, there is a lot that you can accomplish. You can take one step forward and it’s the time. That’s why I liked it when you said take that time to yourself and come into being awake because we are off into this and that and the other thing. Taking some time to breathe deeply and just be is important. That might be somebody’s project or it might be something different. I find that for me, that’s got to be the first thing. I get into gratitude and then anything that I do after that makes me feel like I’m on fire. If I work out after that, it’s even better.
Fifteen minutes every day for a week, a month, a year, six years. It’s not hard to see that you would become a much better guitar player or you would get that screenplay done or you would get the completion of the project. It also hopscotches right over your perfectionism because it’s fifteen minutes. How perfect is it going to be? You start thinking in little tiny chunks, little actionable steps and it makes the creation of whatever your unique voice wants to create a lot easier.
I wrote my book in that way. My kids were younger, so before they got up in the morning, I would write and when they went to bed, I would write. There are those pockets in those spaces for people to take and to do the things that are their special projects, the things that make them feel good and get into their creative zone. They are all about accelerating creativity. Any other tips and tricks that you want to share?
The one that’s coming to me is we talked about there not being a right way to do things, but we get still caught up in that like, “Maybe I should. That person’s doing it that way.” We get distracted and confused about how do I want to do this? We should all over ourselves. That question of, “What do I want?” can be a very difficult one to answer. I’m not that good at answering that question myself like, “What do I want? I don’t know. What do you want? What do you want me to want? What can I do for you? Let’s talk about that. That’s much more comfortable.” If you’re good at answering that question, then great, but if you’re not, another way to think about it is how could I show up 10% more me at this moment? What’s a way that I can put a little bit more of my actual self, my actual personality, my weird sense of humor, my sorrow and melancholy or whatever it is that makes you. How could you inject 10% more of that into this moment, into how you get dressed, into what project you pick or into how you execute the project? You don’t have to be 1000% more yourself.
At first, I’m like, “How do you do that?” I think it’s an interesting question to ponder. For me, what comes up is I could be a little bit goofier maybe in some of the things that I do and bring out that part of me. That’s an interesting concept for people to think about and see what would that be? What would come up at the moment that would give you 10% more you?
I was thinking about this in the grocery store. I thought, “How can I show up 10% more fully? What about making eye contact with somebody.” I did and I ended up in this conversation with the cashier and the woman in front of me in line. We ended up talking about roasting beats and we had this great little chat in the grocery store. It was like, “Look, human contact. Not a moment on my phone.” There’s not a big a-ha to that story except our whole lives are made up of those little moments, those little connections and when you are feeling disconnected and disengaged from yourself and from your life, which a lot of people are.
It’s a fallacy, the whole social media and everything. We’re more shallowly connected but we’re not really connected. We’re more distracted and disconnected than ever.
We have a choice there because it’s certainly possible to let social media allow for deeper connection, but then you have to do that.
In its nature, that would be maybe a phone call or a face-to-face. At least in my book, that’s a deeper connection. I’m going to embrace and start practicing that. How can I bring 10% more of my authentic self to whatever it is that I’m doing? Thank you for that. How can people get more information about you and start to follow you?
You can check me out at TheRealSamBennett.com. That’s also where you can get the procrastination domination starter kit, which is two of my best exercises. One for figuring out which of your 137 great ideas you should be working on. Another one that’s very short but super effective that’s about dealing with compliments and criticisms. While the criticisms can be hard, the compliments can sometimes almost be worse like, “What if they think I’m great, then I have to be great all the time.” It walks you through to deal with that and that puts you on my email list. That is something that most people describe as a very pleasurable experience.
Thank you, Sam, for being here. There are a lot of great nuggets for people to take away and implement immediately.
It’s my pleasure.
Thank you all for being here. I know you’ve taken a nugget or two away and it’s up to you. The accountability is in your hands to put it into practice. It’s time to work towards accelerating creativity, and avoiding procastination. It isn’t as hard as it seems. If you want to start and be constantly thinking about 10% smarter in the way that you work, why not bring 10% more of yourself and your authentic self to that? That’s how we’ll leave this episode. We’ll see you in the next episode.
- Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day
- Start Right Where You Are: How Little Changes Can Make a Big Difference for Overwhelmed Procrastinators, Frustrated Overachievers, and Recovering Perfectionists
- The Organized Artist Company
About Sam Bennett
Originally from Chicago, Samantha Bennett is a writer, speaker, actor, teacher and creativity/productivity specialist and the author of the bestselling, “Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day” which Seth Godin called, “An instant classic, essential reading for anyone who wants to make a ruckus.”
Her latest bestseller is, “Start Right Where You Are: How Little Changes Can Make a Big Difference for Overwhelmed Procrastinators, Frustrated Overachievers and Recovering Perfectionists” She is the creator of The Organized Artist Company, dedicated to helping tens of thousands of creative people get unstuck, helping them to focus and move forward on their goals.
Sam has also written the script for the hit musical, “In a Booth at Chasen’s,” and is working on her latest book, “Secrets of Highly Creative People.” She is an award-winning marketing expert, having spent 15 years as a Personal Branding Specialist for Sam Christensen Studios and been honored as an Ultimate Marketer Finalist at Infusioncon. She is also an Infusionsoft Certified Consultant and Reseller.
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