Three practices for progress without procrastination, perfectionism or paralysis

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on August 21, 2015

in This is Business

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What if you could make steady gains in your businesses without stress?

Without procrastination.

Without perfectionism.

Without paralysis.

Can you imagine how it would feel to move boldly toward your dreams with confidence, comfort, and clarity of purpose?

Take a deep breath – doesn’t the thought alone give you ease?

If you master the following three practices, all of which are within your control, this is exactly how you can feel while you’re climbing the mountain of success.

Your allies in this war against stress and The Resistance are:

  • Kaizen
  • Imperfect Action; and
  • Iteration

Master this triad of painless progress and you’ll be able to launch, grow, and succeed with grace.

Kaizen

Kaizen is the philosophy of small daily actions that lead to big change over time.

We artists get paralyzed in our progress attempting wild leaps toward our goals instead of reasonable baby steps.

There are no shortcuts, no “Secret Trick Known Only To Millionaire Photographers!(tm)”, no pills that will Double The Girth of Your Artistic Talent for the next four hours.

Your art improves as you earn skills. Your business improves as you earn clients.

Every step up the mountain of success is earned. Some are blessed with natural talents, some with lifestyles that allow more time or money to invest in learning – but we’re all in control of our choices. Success is a choice. Success is a long string of hard choices. No amount of talent or money can overcome lazy.

If I told you I could make you a successful photographer for $10,000, but you had to pay today, you’d probably shrug and say, “Sounds great, but I don’t have $10,000 to give you.”

What if I told you I could make you a successful photographer for $10,000 paid out one dollar a day?

That’s possible. That’s manageable. That’s something you could do without breaking a sweat, or breaking the bank.

This is the power of kaizen.

This is the power of baby steps. When you break your goals into small, manageable baby steps, no single step feels like such a big leap of faith. The risk is low. There’s less gravity. The investment of time and effort into any single step is big enough to move the needle but small enough to feel unimposing.

Every project on your plate, whether it’s getting legal or developing your web site or launching your business, is made up of dozens of baby steps – five minutes here, 15 minutes there.

You can spread baby steps out, stealing a moment here or there. You can string them together by scheduling a time block on your calendar, getting into a flow state and pounding out a long list of steps.

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

Break your goals and projects into small steps, then break them again into the smallest baby steps. It may feel borderline absurd, but keep breaking down to the smallest, simplest, most clearly defined steps as you can.

It will take imagination, and patience.

But this shift in thinking will turn your confusing, frustrating, intimidating goals into a clear road map guiding you from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow.

Imperfect Action

To pulverize perfectionism, you have to accept reality.

General Patton said it best:

“A good plan, violently executed today, is far and away better than the perfect plan tomorrow.”

True on the battlefield of art and business, as well.

Reality is, we artists are especially vulnerable to perfectionism. We are our own worst critics, incessantly comparing ourselves against the world and finding ourselves inadequate. No matter how good we get, there’s always someone better – in fact, because we’re constantly striving to evolve, we’re always surrounded by art better than our own.

The practice of Imperfect Action gives you permission to let go.

Let go of the responsibility to do everything perfectly.

Let go of the fear of putting your art in the world.

Let go of being The Best – at art, business, anything.

The insidious danger of perfectionism is that it builds within us the habit of never shipping, of never putting our work into the world so it can bless others and produce feedback. Every time you hide your work instead of share it, every time you choose inaction over imperfect action, you make it harder to overcome that self-limiting inertia.

Indulging perfectionism makes it easier to be your weakest, least empowered self.

(If you’re like me, you’ve got a lot of inertia to overcome.)

Every time I sit down to write here on PTP, I have two choices:

I can indulge my perfectionism. I can write with fear, water down my words, play it safe, avoid risk and vulnerability, then hold onto my words for some mythical day when I’ll be able to edit them thrice and the result will be polished, powerful, and absolutely perfect.

That day ain’t never gonna come.

My only other option is to punch fear in the face, and pound the keys hard and fast. I have to take Imperfect Action. Knowing that nothing I ever write will be “good enough.” Knowing my words will never “be ready.” I have to persevere with tenacity in the face of The Resistance.

What we don’t create never blesses anyone.

What we don’t share never creates value.

It never helps.

It never serves.

It never delights.

It is never cherished.

It’s never shared joyously.

Accept reality. Practice the power of taking Imperfect Action, one baby step at a time. Create imperfect art. Say imperfect things to potential clients. Craft an imperfect client experience. Put imperfect marketing out into the world. Price your work imperfectly. Choose an imperfect name for your business.

Be imperfect.

Don’t be apathetic. Don’t be aloof. Don’t be flip. Don’t be disinterested. Don’t be uncompassionate.

But do be imperfect. Get your art and business into the world so you and your people can be blessed by it – so you can begin building your business, your client base, your experience, your artistic style, your business acumen. So you can create value.

One imperfect action at a time.

Iteration

If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late. – Reid Hoffman

Iteration is the third practice to help battle procrastination, perfectionism, and paralysis in your business life.

As artists, and as first-time entrepreneurs, what we think our business should look like at launch – Version 1.0 – is a serial entrepreneur’s Version 9.0.

By the time we feel we’re ready to launch (if that feeling ever comes), the successful serial entrepreneur would have launched nine times earlier, with a product or service nine times simpler, and had nine times as long to get feedback, and made nine times as many invaluable iterations from that feedback.

This is the power of iteration.

Version 1.0 of your business, the art and marketing and message and client experience you launch with, should be your truly Minimum Viable Product. It should be the simplest commercially-viable version of your business imaginable.

The simpler and sooner you launch, the sooner you can begin accruing one of the most valuable assets in business: feedback.

Tim Ferriss says there is no failure, only experiments and feedback.

From this perspective, all action is growth, every choice is progress, every baby step gets you one measure closer to success.

This is the power of the Minimum Viable Product, and its kissing cousin, Iteration.

Practicing Iteration gives you permission to launch today, to be imperfect in every arena of your art and business.

Most powerfully, it gives you permission to do your best, and know that your best today is good enough for today. Tomorrow you’ll be a shade better. So it goes, until by way of kaizen, imperfect action, and iteration, you look back and can’t believe the progress you’ve made as an artist and business owner.

Practicing The Triad of Painless Progress

What if you knew that no matter what imperfect action you take or best-guess decision you make, you’re winning?

Progressing. Growing. Getting closer to your dream.

What if you knew it?

What if you believed it?

What if, even though it’s a leap of faith, from this day forward you choose to believe it? And when you just can’t believe it, you act like you believe it. As the good gentlemen from The Art of Charm teach, the body follows the mind, and the mind follows the body.

Just as you can inadvertently train yourself into an artist of inaction, you can purposefully train yourself into a person of powerful action.

Today, you may not believe it – you may not see it in yourself.

That’s why it’s just practice. You’re Just Practicing.

Any time and every time you catch yourself procrastinating, indulging perfectionism, or atrophied by paralysis, just take a breath, give yourself grace, smile and say, “I’m Just Practicing.”

Then bring yourself back to center, and back to the practices that enable and honor your best self.

Next Steps

  • Three Sticky Notes, Please: On one, write Kaizen – the next, Imperfect Action – the last, Iteration. Stick these on your monitor, on your mirror, or wherever you most need to be reminded of the choices that are within your control.
  • Brainstorm Session: Get out your pen and paper. What does your perfect day look like? Not what could happen to you, but what choices you would make, what actions you would take, what mindset you would maintain, how you would honor your best self. Describe in delightful detail what your perfect day would look like. Then at the end, write three lines: “This is within my reach.” “This is within my control.” “This is what I’m practicing for.” File this away in your Brainstorms folder.
  • Subscribe Today: It’s my calling to help you earn your first $5,000 to $50,000 as a part time professional photographer. I am truly grateful for your readership, and encourage you to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter at the top of any page of this site.
  • Do This Now: What’s the biggest struggle holding you back right now? E-mail me your answer (yes, right now!), and let’s make a breakthrough today.
  • Start The Conversation: If anything in this post has spoken to and inspired you, please comment below or drop me an e-mail. I’d love to hear how you’re hustling to better your art, life, and business!

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Dorothy August 22, 2015 at 8:00 am

This is excellent. How many times I’ve had bits and pieces of this conversation with myself – having experienced all of the difficulties you mention. You’ve made the issues concise and to the point – an aid in getting a handle on things. For me – working a full time job that constantly requires overtime, living in an old house that seems to have constant issues – my photographic goals seem at times more remote than ever. However….no matter what there are always the baby steps…..

Reply

Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor August 24, 2015 at 10:45 am

Thank you for your kind words and readership Dorothy!

You’re entirely right – every baby step is still progress, still a step in the right direction.

For the sake of consideration, let’s be unreasonable. If you only committed 5 minutes a day to your business, every day, that’s over 30 hours of time invested over the course of a year – almost a full-time work week worth of progress. This would be like taking a three-day vacation just to work solidly on your business 10 hours a day.

But, I would submit, five minutes daily beats 30 hours over three days.

Why?

Because daily practice steeps your mind in your business. It makes progress and growth a habit. Even just moving your business forward five minutes at a time sets your mind and heart and subconscious to work on that business all day long. Little moments of inspiration, of problems solved, of epiphanies.

And it allows for iteration, for directional changes as you take action, earn feedback, and adjust course with new wisdom.

Every little thing you can do, do when you can, as you can, whatever you can. Make big lists of little steps, so you always have something you can take action on when those five minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes come available.

You can do this Dorothy! You are as capable as anyone of earning your way to the art, business, and lifestyle you dream of. If there’s any way I can help or any questions I can answer, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at James@banderaoutlaw.com.

And please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

Reply

Allen August 24, 2015 at 4:43 pm

Great info as always, James. Intentionally planning in my digital calendar small blocks of time for whatever needs to be done – no matter how small – has been the most helpful way for me to “eat the elephant”, so to speak. It’s the only way to juggle multiple tasks too – to keep the balls in the air. Thanks for all you do, man!

Reply

Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor September 1, 2015 at 6:56 pm

Agreed Allen – if it weren’t for my calendar, and a fierce commitment to following it, I’d get nothing done.

One of my biggest challenges is balancing time on my projects against time with my kids. They’re young, time is always fleeting – but when I don’t work on my personal projects, I’m not living the example of balance I want them to learn, nor am I taking the actions that help prepare for their financial needs in the future. I am a better dad when I take reasonable time to honor my needs and passions. Not to say that I don’t consistently battle the challenges of guilt and distraction. But when I have my head and heart right, I’m 100% invested in my passion when it is my present, and I’m 100% invested in my kids when they are my present.

Thank you as always for your readership and support, Allen!

Reply

Dorothy August 29, 2015 at 6:40 am

Thank you, James and Allen. Invaluable information. I actually had a couple of instances this past week where 5 minutes was all I had. It felt great taking using that time and did make a difference. Another day I ended up taking an hour as I had additional time and was already in the mind set. Allen, would you mind sharing your “digital calendar”?

Reply

Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor September 1, 2015 at 6:51 pm

Step by step Dorothy, you’ve got this!

I’m sure Allen’s calendar style is different from mine, but I follow Michael Hyatt’s time blocking: http://michaelhyatt.com/ideal-week.html

This gives me establish rhythms, sacred times, consistency, and a schedule my day job boss, wife, kids, and friends can understand and count on.

Gustave Vlaubert said “Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

Tim Ferriss (of course) has some great productivity hacks here as well: http://fourhourworkweek.com/2013/11/03/productivity-hacks/

Three of the most influential books that have affected how I invest my time are: The Morning Miracle, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, and Getting Things Done (though I don’t follow David’s GTD system, there are so many powerful tactics and ideas to implement).

I hope this helps Dorothy! I look forward to hearing your stories!

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