Breakfast is the most successful routine in my life. I wish I was as motivated about all my routines. But I’m a procrastinator – pretty productive, but still a procrastinator. Not everything gets me going like a good breakfast sandwich.
For a time, I was a personal assistant to a pretty successful composer, and one of the first things he ever said to me was to start the day by ‘eating the frog’, by which he meant do the thing I’m dreading the most (like, write a disappointing email to a person who’s going to take it badly), and it was good advice that I think about every morning (after the breakfast sandy, that is). I’ve got energy, my mind is fresh – morning is good.
But I have a lot of frogs of various types. By noon, I’m sunk. I sing (occasionally froggy when I’m bored with myself); I write grants (a frog I chew obsessively until the deadline); and I do general admin (a million tiny frogs that reproduce rapidly). I face the desire to avoid one or more of these tasks daily, but they must be done. If they aren’t, no music happens OR I end up putting my future in the hands of others who *will* get things done. And who knows if they will even need me next month or if I’ll like their work, etc? I’m not the kind of woman who’s content to put myself in other peoples’ hands for very long. I’d rather eat frogs than end up being someone else’s disposable soprano of the month.
Procrastination however has, if anything, gotten harder for me to combat the further I go, and as I’ve tried to understand why and solve it, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions. First, every frog-like task has a bunch of steps, and usually procrastination begins with a step I either know contains a bunch of tedious sub-steps or steps that I can’t envision clearly (like an email I don’t know the answer to but feel like I should and is a little complicated, so I just don’t answer at all). An example of the former is writing a final report for a grant. Compile receipts, reread the original proposal and remember what I promised, possibly dig through the giant pile of programs for supporting documentation. Wait, where’s the receipt for the final payment to the poster designer? Ugh, is it in one of my five email accounts? And from this seed sprouts procrastination. Diagnosis: I didn’t anticipate needing to make these steps easier for myself when I dumped that email in a random folder somewhere, never to be found again. Solution: don’t procrastinate being organized, because it gives birth to all manner of subsequent procrastination.
Second is a bigger, scarier problem. I’ve been taking steps in service of a couple of projects for years, steps that were all leading towards a goal that was a little fuzzy but has become clearer as I’ve knocked off steps 1, 2, 3, on down the line. In the meantime, new projects popped up, and the first goal became less of a priority, but those steps were hard won. Now I’m procrastinating next steps on thing #1, which I’m loathe to put it down entirely, but I’m not sure where we’ve arrived is where I want to be – and treading water also feels like a waste of energy. And thing #2 might be better, but I would have to start back at step 1.
Ultimately, I don’t really mind step 1 (fill out some forms, schedule a photo shoot, and the like), but there comes a point when you start seeing each project as a step in one’s body of work as a whole. Where do I want my life to be heading and what are the projects that contribute toward that destination? And can I live with the conditions at the end of this path, no matter what they are? These conditions come into focus over time, and the answer may legitimately be ‘yes’ – until it’s not.
One a lighter note - this is all to say I’ve been procrastinating on a solo recording for years. While many of my friends and colleagues are on their second recordings, I’ve dithered. At the root of the problem is that I’ve always looked at a solo recording as serving one purpose – a calling card for freelance opportunities. And when I imagine a future where I’m preoccupied with solo gigs and not creating opportunities for other musicians and composers, I flinch.
Anyway I’d much rather promote other artists’ work than my own, because then I don’t have to take a certain step in my life, which is clearly defining who I am (and who I am not) as an artist. Luckily for me, I’ve been working more and more with composers whose work gets me motivated, especially on the solo recording project. Most recently it’s Andrés Carrizo, who is writing me the most amazing solo soprano piece. Today I woke up to the next movement in my inbox, and I looked at it BEFORE making my breakfast sandwich. There’s hope! So if you see me, ask me if I’ve taken the next steps toward the recording project and ask me about Andrés’s piece, because – this much I know - I will eat a lot of frogs if it means putting this piece out into the world!