Procrastination- an Artist’s Companion?

Procrastination is my buddy.

Me and procrastination are tight.  We co-exist on a level that is difficult to explain to many, particularly the responsible, type A personalities who have taken the To-Do list to levels I can only fathom.

One of my favorite last minute deadline photos.

I just can’t do it.  Lists- never.  To Do task sheets- forget about it.  GTD software- only when my back is to the wall and my spinning plates are about to spiral violently out of control and start decapitating people.

I’m wrapping up two multimedia projects at the moment and trying to ship them before I leave town for another week of assignments in another state.  I love both of these projects.  I truly enjoy digging into Final Cut and putting together the story that speaks to what and whom I documented.  I love it.

I’ve had 3 days to do what should really only take one, yet I’m still procrastinating.  I finally dug in last night, but not until after blocking all social media sites with Leechblock- for 24 hours, removing my email icons from my dock, spending all day at the coffee-shop, visiting friends, taking my truck to the mechanics and contemplating going car-less, watching part of Harry Potter (for the 50th time- seriously- its an affliction) and painting a fence.

While painting the fence (yes- I chose chores over multimedia production) I was trying to explain to my mom that I am the self-professed queen of procrastination.

She didn’t believe me, didn’t really think that was possible, so I rattled off some of my favorite last minute achievements over the years- the past 15 years.  These projects, some of my most successful, really came into their own while I was staring down a deadline.  I know exactly how long it takes me to do everything- and barring any unforeseen computer malfunctions, I always make it.

Last minute musical shoot! Details about the degree of my procrastination that produced these images is at the bottom of the article.

Why do we procrastinate?

I’ve read a few interesting books this summer that speak to this- the resistance and shipping come to mind from Seth Godin.  And yes, I completely agree that part of it is this artistic blockage that views success as some mortal threat to our existence or fears the failure of attempting some monumentus task.  Tim Ferris mentioned Parkinson’s Law in the 4HWW, which states that a task will swell in relation to the time given to complete it and if a short time is allotted for completion, pressure makes one focus on execution.  Makes sense.

But, while pondering the procrastination during my Karate Kid fence painting moment, I had to think that it’s something else.  It’s the adrenaline of performing under pressure. We journalists and photojournalists in particular, thrive off of performing at a high level of professional proficiency under stress.

Car chases in squad cars, drug raids, protest rallies with IDF soldiers, tear gas and rubber bullets, shooting in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans at a concert and having to get the image in three songs, dodging stock cars in the pit at NASCAR while trying to get the winning car- hell- even riding in the stock car at 175 miles an hour 6 inches from the wall- these are just some of the adrenaline rushes I’ve tasted while working as a photographer.

Sprinkle an absolute deadline in there and you have the adrenaline junkie’s crack cocktail.

So, I have to wonder, are some of us wired to need the extra stress while performing our art in order to really kick ass?  I can look back at all of my last minute projects and they completely rocked- some of them won some major awards or just became my favorite images out of hundreds of thousands.

Some of my most serendipitous artistic moments happened at the very last minute, when pressure was high and adrenaline was flowing.

Do our brains function better under stress- external and internal- self-imposed and from our obligations to others?  Does our brain focus harder when the pressure is weighing down on it?

Should we take this into account when creating or try to perform like more “normal” folks, with structured milestones throughout a project, detailed to do lists and scheduled work times?  Or do we just leap off the cliff at the pinnacle time of production and dive down the rabbit hole until we emerge- sweaty, exhausted and frazzled, holding our prized masterpiece created from the chest crushing pressure that had our hearts racing for hours on end?

Extreme pressure makes diamonds, right?  I’m just saying.

Folk Music – Images by Crystal Street

These images are from a last minute photojournalism project from my Studio lighting class at UNC.  We had an entire semester to complete this assignment and was supposed to be a major piece of work for our portfolio.  I spent most of that semester securing about $7500 in grants and fellowships to document cultural preservation of Tibetan Exiles in India and Nepal, so I was a little preoccupied.  Four days before the assignment was due, I headed out to document a three day folk music festival with a veiled threat from my professor that this project had better be amazingly ridiculous since I had devoted no time to the task all semester.  After two days of getting nothing, I began to contemplate the thought of failing my photojournalism class.  Not an option for someone, who at age 30, decided to return to school and go into debt to study photojournalism.  I was totally f**ked.  It was raining, I had nothing and my spirits were wallowing in the mud puddles that broke my monopod.  Sigh.

I hung out at the festival way past midnight- probably one of the few sober folks at this point- and wandered about looking for any little miracle to save my ass.  Low and behold, the lighting Gods produced a sheer miracle and a fog settled throughout the festival.  Each music tent with colored stage lighting began to glow and cast these ridiculous shadows.  I almost cried- seriously- someone was looking after my ass and just gave me pure photo gold.  I went ballistic and shot everything in sight.  The proverbial kid in the candy store.

A couple days later I sat in my professor’s office showing him my photos for the final edit.  He smiled, looked at me and basically said, “you pulled this right out of your ass, didn’t you?”  As a matter of fact I did.  Those images remain some of my favorite all time shots and one of them still hangs over my professor’s desk to this day.

So, procrastination can be your friend!  Embrace it and know that sometimes the procrastination has a purpose!


  1. says

    I can`t believe you`d rather paint a fence lol… Actually I`m guilty of doing far worse to avoid creative work. I don`t think I would call it procrastination more than just terrified of completing something that the world won`t approve of aka fear of failure. I suppose I could lend my type of procrastination to anxiety. My blog however, which I have yet to post on even though I have written posts lined up and ready to go, is a completely different story. Without that looming deadline adrenaline, the blog will just have to wait til I get to it lol.

    • says

      I know! Chores over work- go figure! Though, I do love that mindless fence painting for contemplating matters of importance- like work! The fear of completion is very real and can be very cumbersome or even debilitating for an artist. There’s the fear of what comes after the completion, the fear of criticism, the fear of rejection- all difficult to surmount for an artist! With blogging, you just have to hit publish. Don’t hold onto those articles too long- there’s someone out there right now that will benefit from your writing! So give it a life and shove it out the door!

      Thanks for commenting, Mariah!

  2. says

    I’ve noticed two things about my own (intimate) relationship with procrastination.

    One is that it only causes me suffering when I beat myself up about it the whole time. If I lean into it, if I call it ‘creative incubation’ and let it run its course, we get a long much better.

    The other is that doing things at the last minute closes off some (most) of the options and creates a container that’s really useful for me. Of course, doing something at the first minute might have the same effect (choosing an option before I’ve thought of the others), but the incubate-and-jump method seems to work well for me. Mostly.

    What was the question again? Oh, yes. Probably.

    Terrific post. As always. xo

    • says

      I love the “creative incubation”! I beat myself up as well- then after the fact I have to laugh. Something always presents itself and justifies the procrastination. Creating a container is a fabulous perspective- in those last minutes of production and creativity, we tend to get our affairs in order (notify all friends and family that we are going into the rabbit hole- or “creation container”) turn off communication, brew up lots of coffee, get the snacks ready and dangle some carrot of reprise at the end of our work. And then we just leap and create! Funny how that works!

      Thanks for reading and chiming in! So glad you liked the article, Lisa!