Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The War of Art and Do The Work were the most valuable books I read last year

The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, gives a name to the force that makes us procrastinate. Pressfield calls it 'Resistance', and describes it as a part of ourselves that is actively trying to find ways to stop us from creating the things we were born to do. The War of Art was excellent at articulating this concept of Resistance, and getting me to emotionally buy in to the idea of defeating it.

Do the Work (the follow-up book) is fantastic at taking you step-by-step through a project: the various stages of Resistance you'll face, and some great fundamental strategies for making progress on a project. However, I feel it does skimp a little on defining 'Resistance', as it summarises material from The War of Art in a way that I don't think stands entirely alone.

The War of Art changed me but Do the Work is the one I refer to on a weekly basis.

Strongly related to those books is this blog post by Seth Godin: The First Thing You Do When You Sit Down at a Computer. He suggests that rather than check Facebook or Twitter, you spend that first block of time working on the thing you really want to get done, "laying the tracks" to accomplishing your goals.


Karen said...

Right now I'm sufficiently grumpy that I read this and thought "But what if I really was born to be a no-hope loser in a dead end job?" And yeah... I sat down at the computer, checked email, fb, scrabble, twitter... clicked through on this link to see what you had to say. Tonight is gaming night. Tomorrow night I shall do better :)

Now I need to prove I'm not a robot... Perhaps that's my problem?

Anonymous said...

I often wonder how Luke manages to be so prolific - his life is busier than mine, but his output is even moreso.

I tend to brood on a project for a long time, pottering, then putting down, and returning later to re-write. From the time it was "Butterfly Wings" to the time it was "A World of Possibilities" at KapCon was something like 2 years.

Maybe it's a discipline thing; could also be an inspiration thing. Luke's excitement at new stuff is always very heartening: very little makes me excited. Which is I guess why generally people think I don't enjoy things that I do enjoy.

Anyway... the small slivers of advice in this post of yours are becoming omni-present in writing tip-guides. What, I wonder from cursory glance, is the difference between "resistance" and "the dip" that you posted about a little while ago?

Steve Hickey said...

Karen, I'm *almost* certain you're not a robot :)

Alasdair, I'd be interested in hearing about Luke's process too. I may try to summon him to this post.

Resistance is an always-present force that tries to stop you from achieving anything worthwhile. It's definitely a component of the Dip.

I think the Dip can be broken down into two parts. First, a tailing-off of your enthusiasm after starting any project. That's kind of natural, and that's where Resistance feeds in.

Second, is the idea of whether is the question about whether this project is the right project to be working on and whether you're actually working in the right 'area' or 'sector'. That nagging doubt can be a manifestation of Resistance, but the Dip is primarily about making sure that you're as certain about the worthwhileness of a project as you can be before you start and being willing to abandon it.

I have flu-brain at the moment, so I don't think I can see how to synthesise the two things neatly. But perhaps the tension that Resistance and the Dip represent is something to be aware of: If you're having doubts or lack of enthusiasm, is it because of Resistance or is it because you're becoming aware that fundamentally the project you're working on isn't worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

I think I probably project a air of being more productive than I often am, mostly through enthusiasm for what I am working on and a flexible lifestyle :)

I think what productivity I do have comes from a few main factors:

1. Be productive when you are enthusiastic. If you have the luxury, don't try pushing your productivity when your enthusiasm is low. Do something else that you are enthusiastic about.

2. Break challenges (or Resistance) down into manageable chunks. No one can deal with a big challenge. Those that seem to, do it by chipping away at what they can break down. This often creates a cascading effect and can see the challenge diminish. If you get genuiniely stuck, try a different approach or give it time.

3. Be enthusiastic. 10 year old children don't procrastinate, so it pays to have that 10 year old child somewhere about in everything you do :) Honestly, its cool and often useful to be aware of what you are doing and what you are dealing with on s sophisticated level. In fact, that's the way I break down challenge. But if something feels cool to you deep down then don't let go of that. That's what will inspire you once you are through the challenge and it will help you see more opportunities.

4. I am also forever pursuing the unobtainable nirvana of having nothing on my plate :) Its drives me to want to finish things. Deep down, I don't mind that I am always busy, but that over the horizon goal keeps me sane :)

5. Confidence. Do stuff that you think is the coolest thing ever (why do anything less) and don't worry what other people think. This will naturally filter who is attracted to your work and with no artificiality or agonising on your part.

Most of the above is about managing your energy levels to best effect. Procrasination comes when I have low energy and no clear way forward. Knowing how to deal with it and how to avoid it are crucial.