Do we all lament our procrastinating? I happened upon a little time-management self-help book that addresses the problem of procrastination – often a troublesome side effect of re-entry after a trip. (My husband pointed out that a fine way to procrastinate is to read a book about not procrastinating.)

In all such books the suggestions are probably similar (the men in my family have been reading “The Four Hour Work Week” this winter): set goals, plan, organize, prioritize, make lists! Still I always need reminding, need encouragement to allow planning time and disallow over-frequent email checking.

This time I (quickly) read Tracy Brian’s “Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.” Brian says, “Your ‘frog’ is your biggest, most important task,” the one you are most likely to avoid. For him, the crucial thing is to do that task first.

But even figuring out that task can be challenging, and rewarding, for our brains do love to accomplish. In his book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” Jonah Lehrer writes about people who definitely dine on their biggest frogs. Lehrer explores the latest scientific findings about the brain’s activity during creative work, and he upends some long-held assumptions about creativity. He tells us that numerous studies of outcome reveal the ineffectiveness of traditional brainstorming, and assert the importance of constructive criticism.

I loved a chapter on Milton Glaser, the inventive New York graphic designer who thought up “I ♥ New York” (while riding in a taxi stuck in traffic). As an artist Glaser thinks as much as he manipulates media, and says about creating: “It’s about taking an idea in your head, and transforming the idea into something real.” “If you’re doing it right, it’s going to feel like work.”

Ideas happen when brain cells make new connections – “sheer serendipity” but serendipity that can be encouraged – if we stick with it, if we work (and sometimes if we take a perfectly timed break and go for a walk or talk to a colleague). Lehrer would say the trick is to know what kind of “stuck” you are.

He’s is full of examples, from Bob Dylan to sticky notes, and says, “Every creative story is different. And every creative story is the same. There was nothing. Now there is something. It’s almost like magic.”

It’s interesting to know more about how the brain operates, but the frog book gets us in place, inspires us with suggestions like: make a list (a detailed step-by-step list), contain the distractions, seek clarity about what needs to be done, and break jobs into manageable bits.

Both books help, and I made a sign for my desk of one of Brian’s admonitions:

4 thoughts on “Self-Helpful

  1. Eat that frog is an interesting concept — I tend to make lists and then go do some task not on the list. As the day wears on, I resort to triage — doing those things that REALLY have to get done. Perhaps if I did eat the frog first . . . (I like that sign!)

  2. When I think of frogs and lists I think of one of my children’s and now my grandson’s favorite books, “Frog and Toad” – the one with the chapter called “The List”. I can’t remember the story exactly, but at some point, before he gets to cross things off of it, the list blows away. Some days I wish my list would blow away, and I could just live in the moment for a few hours.

  3. Katy dearest, please don’t become any more efficient or productive or I will have to forswear your blog entirely. As it is, I can visit only occasionally lest I become despondent over my own (for real) procrastination. Gardening, cooking, exotic travels, writing, painting, attending to family and friends. If I didn’t love you so, I might resent all those accomplishments!

    Case in point: for the past year–almost exactly–I have meant to tell you how much I enjoyed seeing you and your delightful husband in Maine. I think you must be like Elizabeth and me. We fall in love with men who can make us laugh.

    What an honor that the SoCal folks welcome your help in their garden-making, and what fun. E. and friend tore up their whole front yard for gardens (because that’s where the sun is) but our task was simply to admire. Both my children are so much more competent than I in every way that my assistance is never sought or allowed (with the exception of proofreading and matters of the heart.)

    When E. was perhaps 13 she recounted a conversation about parents she’d had with her friend Heather. She said David was rated A+ as a father and I B+ as a mother. Oh, says I as lightheartedly as possible, and what was my score based on? Well, Mom, she said not unkindly, most mothers do cook and clean. I decided I was quite content with my B+.

    I’m so glad you kept “her spirits rose” in your new title. Despite my lack of artistry in the everyday, my spirits rise every time I see your watercolors. They have a quality of whimsy that always lifts my heart.

    Love, Nora

  4. Pingback: Glaser’s Secrets of Art | her spirits rose...

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