Talking with Sam Bennett, author

Episode #187

Today I talk with Sam Bennett, author of "Get It Done" and the creator of The Organized Artist Company. Lots of great tips and ideas for getting done what's most important to you instead of leaving last on the list.

Interview with Sam Bennett

Alison Lee: Well, Today's exciting! All of you out there who think "Hmm. Do I procrastinate? How do I get started?" We're going to have some great answers today from today's guest Ms. Sam Bennett, who is an author of a new book called "Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 minutes a day". Sounds good right? She also has a company called "The Organized Artist Company.com" Sam, thanks for coming on today and talking to me.

Sam: Thank you so much for having me Alison: Hi everybody.

Alison: So why don’t we get things done? Or let’s put it differently. What do some things get done and others don’t?

Sam: Well, sometimes I think we don’t know move forward on the projects that matter most to us because they matter so much to us.

Alison: OK. I got it

Sam: And I also think we also tend to get everything done for everybody else, you know. We're tribal animals as much as we maybe wish that everybody else would just go away at times. We're very responsible to the group, you know. We know that we cannot survive alone. So we really do tend to get everything done for everybody else and, you know the stuff that matters most to us often falls down the list or even off the list entirely. And it hurts, you know. Procrastination hurts.

Alison: That’s, ok. And is it when it hurts too much that we finally do something? How do we make that leap? Like why is it so hard?

Sam: I mean I think it's hard because, mostly because of fear. Fear of failure, fear of success, you know, the voices in our head, the anxiety that it’s not going to be right. Often times procrastination just means your project is too big.

Alison: That’s a very good tip.

Sam: You know I see it all the time with creative people. You get a giant idea, sort of along the lines of "I know I want to redo the whole house." Yay! And you can see it. You can see the whole thing and it’s got sequels and theme parks and an international grassroots movement and all these moving parts. And then you're immediately overwhelmed by the complexity of the idea. So part of the reason why I suggest the 15 minutes a day thing is so that it forces you to chunk out the project and go like "Ok. Well what little tiny corner of it could I start playing around with today?" And see that steady progress that sort of gets you past some of your perfectionism, because really how much can you do in 15 minutes? And gets you in a state of forward movement on things.

Alison: Do you think it has to do with tricking the brain a bit? That's what I’ve come down to. I have to trick my brain.

Sam: 100%. And you need every trick in the book. You need a big toolkit of ways to convince, cajole, bribe, insight, you know. The inner reluctance is very deep and really, you know for everybody really hear this. It’s hard for everyone. One of the things I see that makes me a little crazy is sometimes when we see somebody succeed at something, particularly something we would like to succeed at, we immediately make up a story in our head about how it must have been easier for them.

Alison: Don’t you know it. Don’t you know it.

Sam: Right? Well of course Alison can da, da, da because she's so this way, you know. Or of course Sam could write a book. She's so this way or she's related to those people or they've got a lot of money or they've got a PhD or whatever it is. And I am here to tell you it is not easier for anyone. And even sometimes the things that make it seem like it would be easier like having a PhD or a lot of money are actually hindrances.

Alison: I think that's the big bad secret is that the, do you remember the show Dobie Gills and Maynard G Krebs and He'd Be Told? It’s like a little sitcom in the 60's. And whenever he heard the word work he'd go "Work?". And I still remember that and he just sort of quiver and squeal it and there is a lot of work right?

Sam: Yeah. We freak ourselves out.

Alison: We freak ourselves out.

Sam: So it is really important to get it because this is the other thing too is, it’s a dynamic process. Your creativity is dynamic. So you'll need a lot of strategies. Sometimes you'll get in a rhythm and you'll think "Oh this is really working." And then something will change. And you need to try a different tactic or strategy. So don’t ever feel like it’s going to be easy or like you are going to get it set someday, like it will just be like, you know.

Alison: It always works now, yeah.

Sam: Yes, and that it always works because it’s just not, that's not the nature of the process. But the other thing I really want to say is, quit thinking that there is a right way.

Alison: Yeah. Good point.

Sam: There's no right way, there's your way. And naturally why I wrote the book it’s not like I've got some incredible method and everybody should do everything exactly the way I tell them too. But I’ve got an incredible method for you to figure out what your way is.

Alison: Oh I agree. I read the whole book in one sitting. It’s great. I'm going to say it again to everyone out there just get it. Get it done!

Sam: Get it done.

Alison: Yes. And there's great tips. I think the contrast sometimes I think we need just a little, that little extra push to get started. It’s not something huge. Sometimes you need bigger but sometimes you just need that little one.

Sam: Well the thing I would suggest plugging into to just move you from "oh I wish I could" to "Oh look I'm actually doing it" is to really get in touch with the strength of your desire. Because this is why I say procrastination is genius in disguise, it’s your genius in disguise. It’s your brilliant idea that's their kind of tugging on your sleeve saying "Hey. Hi. Didn’t you want to; you know make me independent film? Didn’t you want to sketch me? Didn’t you want to dance? Didn’t you want to clear that spare room? Didn’t you want to whatever it is?" And the fact that you still feel bad about not having moved forward on that idea is a really good sign because it means that you're really interested in the idea.

Alison: Yes. So there you go. That bad is good.

Sam: Right? I mean because you've got a million other ideas that you haven’t moved forward on at all, you know they just sort of come and gone. No big deal. But there's some that really hang around. So you know the promise that little tugging on the sleeve sort of turns to nagging and yelling and you know, all those horrible voices in your head. But if you can think sort of, think below that and really feel the desire in your belly of how much you would like to be working on that. How much it would mean to you to have that project done because I'm telling you, procrastination hurts, it hurts to your heart, its hurts your soul, it hurts your relationships and for many of your, it really hurts your bottom line. It hurts your income. There's tens of thousands of dollars that you are leaving on the table because you don’t have the book done, you don’t have the product made, you're not following up on that opportunity, you're not reconnecting with that person and it’s just on that list of "Oh I should, I should I should." Like you got to. You got to move your stuff to the top of the list. it’s really, it’s insane how much you're leaving behind.

Alison: It gets in the way. It’s like a big hairball. It's like a big hairball in the drain.

Sam: Yeah. Exactly.

Alison: But do you think? Because this is one of my favorite subjects, I think about this a lot. I think sometimes we get complacent in the feeling of dealing with the procrastination pain, because it looks familiar so we know how to deal with it. We can just turn on television or do what we do to deal with that.

Sam: 100% And it fact it becomes part of our self-image. I'm the unexpressed writer, I'm the under appreciated person, I'm the one who does, I self-sacrifice, I’m doing everything for everybody else and I never have time for me, you know. I got into that trip pretty heavily. Martyrdom, I’m in. Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. And I have a theory too actually. More on that complacency. The new pain is worse than old pain.

Alison: That’s brilliant.

Sam: You know, that when you try something new.

Alison: A new pain.

Sam: Yeah. Unknown pain. When you are trying something new, I've had it a lot with launching this book. There's been a lot of new stuff that I have been asked to do and new challenges and it can be really uncomfortable and it feels sort of extra uncomfortable because I don’t really know what it is. It’s like, you know how everybody has their personal way of getting sick?

Alison: Yeah.

Sam: Like mine is bronchitis. So if I’m going to get sick it’s probably going to be bronchitis. I start to cough I'm like "Oh yeah. I know what this is. Its bronchitis. No big deal." If on the other hand I get as stomach ache, I think I’m dying. I'm like that's never happens to me.

Alison: That's such a good point.

Sam: So I’m like "What is this? Oh no! How long will it last? Why do I feel this way? Why is it so terrible?" I don’t know the parameters of that pain and I think we freak ourselves that way too. Like the old familiar pain, the complacency, the self-sacrifice, the all that. That’s very familiar and we are very comfortable with that. The minute you try something new and you start getting uncomfortable it feels worse because it's new.

Alison: But there is a high in there.

Sam: Oh for sure.

Alison: Right. That’s the thing. I know for me there's a high when you get to the other side of it. You go through that and then there's a little high of like "Wait a minute. I'm doing it. Holy smokes."

Sam: Totally. And it’s also, you know all these problems these new problems are showing you where you need to grow. I mean if you, I had no idea that having my own business first of all was an art project in and of itself. My business is an art project and it is also a spiritual discipline and the best self-help, self-actualization tool I have ever come across. If you ever wondered what yourself was, start a business. Because it will come right out, it’s like hello. Oh hello myself, you are looking well. Nice to see you again.

Alison: Oh dear. That is so true. But then it gives you as they say an opportunity to figure that out.

Sam: Exactly. Exactly. And you know that, your creative voices are your gift, you know. It’s your unique perspective on the world, it’s the thing that nobody else can do. No one else can do your work. Only you can do your work and we are not here forever. We don’t have an unlimited amount of time to do our work.

Alison: No we don’t.

Sam: So to understand that desire on your heart is an engraved invitation from the divine and that we are waiting. The world needs your art. The world needs your work. It’s your gift and what do we do with gifts, we give them. We give them. So, you know don’t expect it to ever, you know to feel ready or to feel like something's a good idea or to get validation or to feel calm and comfortable. You know nobody every woke up in the morning and said "You know I'm ready to start painting." No. You just have to start and get in there and get doing it and see where it leads you. That's the thing that creative projects. Will lead you right down the path. Sparkly breadcrumbs.

Alison: Yes. Oh it’s so true. It is so true. Well now, what do you think the scared thing? You came up in the beginning said, we're afraid of success, [inaudible] failure. Oh we are always so frighten of everything. What is a remedy for getting past that big scared one because that will stop people right there? "Oh what if it doesn’t come out good?".

Sam: Yeah I mean it’s amazing how people will use their imaginative powers for not good. No. Like while I would you know get my painting out there but if they are really successful and then I have to make a lot of them and then I make a lot of money and then account embezzles from me and then I end up broke and I have to get my waitressing job that I had in college. You know. It’s like wow, that’s a really complicated story. You know. there's a number of exercises in the book to help move you past this. Yeah, to help you move past the fear and help you get some clarity. But the one I kind of like, that I found really hand anyway is to go, "Ok. So what’s my big anxiety?" You know I'm afraid that if I’m really successful I'll lose all my friends.

Alison: That's a good one.

Sam: Or somebody will be jealous of me or somebody will be mad or they'll think that I think that I'm all that. You know they'll think I'm stuck up. Then I go, ok so write that down, I'm afraid of this, I'm afraid of that. And then on a scale of 1 to 10 what’s the likelihood of that actually happening? Like on a scale of 1 to 10 the idea that I might lose all my friends, I don’t know a 2? You know. The idea that someone would be jealous of me? I don’t know maybe a 9. That seems sort of likely. And then go "Ok so if that did happen, how might I handle it?" Oh well I guess I could invite my friends over to my fancy new house or you know I could make new friends or if someone were jealous of me I could take some time to talk to them, give them a hand up or just deal with it or you know. Understand you have resources, you know. You have inner resources. You have dealt with stuff before so this giant fantasy inside of your mind of how disastrous it’s all going to be, you can’t screw up your life, you know. You can’t do it wrong so might as well just do it.

Alison: And your brain just tricking you to get started. Your brain comes up with things that are unbelievable. I try to trick my brain and give it something else to do while I'm starting a creative project so that it doesn’t realize that we've started before it finally catches on.

Sam: That's an excellent strategy. Think of it as being in beta, you know. Oh I’m just experimenting. I'm just playing around.

Alison: I'm experimenting. This is not the beginning of the project. I'm just scribbling here. Oh look I'm starting to write and my brain's gone on, I might have the television on in the background. My brain's like "Oh no, we are watching TV." And I'm like "No I'm actually writing this thing I needed to write."

Sam: Right. Right. Exactly. And it’s gotten to the point now where when I get that, oh it’s a very specific physically feeling that has to do with feeling slightly nauseated and then also a voice in my head going "No. No. No. No. No. No. No. We can't possibly do that. No. No. Absolutely not!", then I know I have to.

Alison: Right. There are the signs right there.

Sam: That's the signs. The louder that voice gets, the more likely it is that I have had a truly great idea.

Alison: Right. And about feeling ready, what are your thoughts on feeling ready with that? You just touched on in briefly a second ago. Is there such a thing?

Sam: There is no such thing. There's absolutely no such thing. It’s a big mess. It’s a big joke. It’s never going to feel ready and it’s never going to feel perfect. It’s never going to be done, you know. And you are not a very good judge of your own work.

Alison: No. No.

Sam: So this is the other reason why you got to get it out of the house.

Alison: No it's very true.

Sam: Yeah. You are always comparing it to the idea in your head, you know. Somebody says "Oh that's so lovely." And you are thinking "Yeah. It be better if I got that gold leaf on there properly." But no one else is seeing that.

Alison: Oh yeah. I used to do the same where if I worked all day on a project I was making, a piece of jewellery or whatever and by the end of the day I hated everything, I did at least train myself that I wasn’t allowed to melt it down until the next day.

Sam: Save your work. Save your work. I’m telling you. I did the same think. I actually wrote a bunch of poems like a year ago and it was one of those times where they weren’t really written they were sort of downloaded, you know. They kind of all came out in one big whack. And I took a look at the master words and I thought, hmmm, these aren’t very interesting. But I know enough now, first of all I know enough that when that download comes, I write it down. Because a lot of you out there are writers, you are just not writing it down. So I actually got it done on paper and I saved it. I put it in a little, I have a little folder here. And It took about a year before I sort kind of came, talking in my sleep and I was like "Oh. Maybe I should look at that." And I looked at them I thought, "Oh well maybe they are a little more interesting than I thought they were in the beginning. I put 2 of them in, it’s a little book called "An artist talks to God". It’s a very brief book of, yeah poems I guess. I put 2 of them in an email up to my list. Like here I kind of did these and you know wanted to share them with you. I feel a little shy because they are sort of spiritual and you kind of coming out of the closet of the God girl, right?

Alison: With a little more woo hoo than the norm.

Sam: Yeah. And Alison I got this deluge of response, I got this avalanche, you know back. Oh my gosh! I’m so moved. I’m crying. I’m sending this to my sister. I can’t believe it. and I’m like, wow. So I immediately I turned it into a kindle book and got it up and out. But not it’s like don’t, but I'm so pleased that it like, I don’t know everything but I know to write it down and I know to not throw it away. Don’t melt it down. Don’t squelch it. Don’t, you know. Just because you hate it in this moment, just give it a minute, you know.

Alison: I also think and you brought this up in the book. I think baby steps are way underrated. People put them down and like there's no other way, in my book.

Sam: There's no other way.

Alison: Right? Its like baby steps. Yeah. Talk about that for people so they understand the difference between, you just said the huge overwhelming project.

Sam: Yeah. And commit yourself to 15 minutes a day. And I say 15 minutes a day before you check your email, before your check your email, before you check your email, spend 15 minutes a day on the projects that matter the most to you. And its astonishing how much work you can get done in 15 minutes. It’s really sort of striking. And especially 15 minutes every day for a week, a month a year, you know. 6 years. It’s pretty dramatic. And the first thing I would do is make a list of 15 minute tasks.

Alison: Great idea.

Sam: Because some mornings you are going to wake up and be like "Oh. I'm calling that literary agent. I'm following up with that person. I am following up with that person. I'm going to do this, you know. I'm a badass. I'm submitting to that competition, that's what I'm doing, you know. And other days you are going to wake up and be like "Oh, I'm fine."

Alison: Yeah. That's so true.

Sam: I don’t want to talk to anybody today or you know and you are going to want to have some things on the list to kind of accommodate that mood. So you ought to make the decision making about just doing it, you know. You can end the argument about should I work today? Well I might work yesterday but I didn’t work tomorrow. No, no. Every day and even if just sit there and stare at the thing for 15 minutes, that’s ok. And other times you sit down for 15 minutes and get up 4 hours later. I mean, I don’t know how that happens.

Alison: Yeah. That's the brilliant part of really trick the brain and doesn’t know it. It took some other side trip and you kept working.

Sam: Yeah. And the other thing that happens again with this baby steps and it’s funny too, because we talk about tricks of the brain. I often hear like "Yeah I understand what you are saying Sam but that wouldn’t work for me." Well it pretty much works for everybody. Even large scale sculpture, I don’t know you are doing some bread and puppet science thing out there in the field. Even that there's an astonishing number of 15 minute tasks related to getting that work up and out and I think it really lets the angels know we're serious.

Alison: Good point.

You know, when you set an intention and then move your feet and you bend them straight to some commitment, your mind is on it, you are sort of spinning on it, you know you're kind of playing around with it every day. That's when those incredible things, you know that's when you're in line at the dry cleaners and the person next to you, cousin works for Google and they want to feature you on the, you know like crazy. Who could ever have predicted this kind of thing?

Alison: Well the lines are open. You've done your homework and you’re in that flow and the lines are open and you stumble across what you need next.

Sam: That's right because our brains are very good at finding what we are looking for.

Alison: I think so to.

Sam: Yeah.

Alison: I call it the one shelf at a time. I started with a stylist and we talked about you know the cleaning out of my past life. If you are ever going to clean out your closet that whole overwhelming feeling she said just do one shelf at a time. And I say it all the time because one shelf is not overwhelming.

Sam: I had a client actually who did her house, her entire house in 5 minute increments. She didn’t even have 15 minutes because she had twin toddler boys. So she had, there was no 15 minutes in her life. It was like just chaos and madness all the time. but she would set the time for 15 minutes, error, for 5 minutes and she would do it maybe once or twice a day. And yeah, she would just this bit of this drawer, this bit of this shelf. Not even a whole shelf, just this bit of this shelf. She said by the end of the year, her place looked like Dwell Magazine.

Alison: Yeah, no its true.

Sam: She said her mother came over and could not believe what she had down and all in 5 minute [inaudible].

Alison: It’s really, it’s not fair the 5 minute and the baby step thing really works. You know I was a dresser at Radio City for the Rockettes at the Christmas Show. One thing I learned, every 90 minutes you had to costume like 50 Rockettes, elephants, camels, clowns, whatever, Santa Clauses and get them all in all those different costumes and then repeat it again like 5 times a day. And all it was it was one baby step after another. This goes here, that goes here, we go over here, we move that here and you would get a show done every time and to me it really taught me who those small little baby steps in production put on a show.

Sam: That's right. That's right. And none of those individual steps has to be so perfect.

Alison: Yeah that’s a good point. Forget it.

Sam: They just have to happen.

Alison: They have to just happen.

Sam: Yeah.

Alison: Deadlines can be your friend, I always say.

Sam: Oh, deadlines have beauty and magic in them.

Alison: Yeah, they do. They get things moving.

Sam: Yeah. People have said to me all the time like "Oh I never get anything done till the last minute." No one gets anything done till the last minute. Nobody does. Like that's what the last minute is for. What are you saying?

Alison: Yeah. Exactly. Isn’t that how it goes? Uhh. Sometimes my stomach is really happy to have done some of the pre work, I got to tell you.

Sam: Well and that’s what I think. When you have a deadline, your brain just kind of puts it on the timer and so, you know you have that thing like "Oh no. I've got this presentation tomorrow and I haven’t done anything." Well that's not really true. You have been kind of ticking along on it. So by the time you actually sit down to write you know you may not have written it yet but you kind of know what you want to do. So, you know give yourself a little credit.

Alison: Yeah. Well before we go let’s touch on that it’s not all about talent. Right? I mean some people think they are not talented enough, not genius enough and it’s really not all about talent at all, right?

Sam: It has almost nothing to do with talent honestly. I think consistency, I think willingness, I think the words that's coming to me is aptitude, you know. The work, we've all been healed by art, you know. We've all had that book that just saved us, that stupid movie in the middle of the night when you thought you were going to completely lose it and then this stupid movie saved you, you know. The song that saved you, the piece of art that saved you, the poem that saved you. And you may notice that some of those pieces that saved you were not great, they were not great art made by great people. Some of them are downright dumb.

Alison: That’s a good point.

Sam: You know, we don’t always need things to be art and it makes me a little crazy. I had a client, she's still a client who when she started working with me, she had 3 or 4 novels sitting in a drawer because they were like not really romances but they were sort of, they were kind of romantic. They're sort of soft, you know. Cottage mystery kind of thing. And she felt like they were too sort of sentimental, like they weren’t real, you know. They weren’t real books.

Alison: Right. Ok.

Sam: And I'm thinking, that’s crazy. Like what is wrong with you? I'm scouring the book stores looking for that book. I'm a voracious reader and I would love to get some nice cosy romantic mysteries going on here. Like, you know it happens all the time. Oh I’m not really an artist. I just do cartoons. What? You know it’s not about who's more talented or who is less talented, it’s just about getting your work, your particular form of genius out there. Because someone's looking for.

Alison: Someone is looking for it. Absolutely. And someone is going to say "That exactly what I wanted to see you learn, read, do, whatever.

Sam: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. All the time. And let me just put this little word of caution on too. I will guarantee you that the piece of work that’s going to get you the most attention, make you the most money, that’s going to get the most flap is not going to be your favourite.

Alison: See, write that down everyone. That's good.

Sam: Right. It’s going to be the one that you are sitting there going "Seriously? That's the one you like? I've done all this other stuff including this piece over here which I rather think is really quite brilliant and that's the one you like?" But people get to like what they like. And you get to be gracious about it.

Alison: Amen. That's how it goes. Well see now you've inspired me. My hands are sweating. I will admit to that. They are a little sweaty right now.

Sam: Good.

Alison: But I you know, I'm with you. I feel the same thing. Its, I’ve been enough to feel the high of the other side and I just hang on to that memory when I'm stuck in that place how good it feels when I get to the other side.

Sam: It’s the best feeling in the world. And not only, it’s amazing how even the smallest amount of progress feels so good.

Alison: Exactly.

Sam: So good. And there's the results that you can anticipated and then there's all the results that you do not anticipate. Moving forward on your project is going to bring you things, it’s going to bring you people and ideas and income and coincidences and joy that you had no idea about right now. And that's really where your creativity turns into a blessing because it just leads you in all new and exciting ways. It’s really fun.

Alison: Yeah it is and fun is number 1 important too so.

Sam: Number 1.

Alison: Yeah. Keep it fun, I say. Then it’s can’t take it too seriously, keep it all fun

Sam: Oh please. Seriousness is death.

Alison: Well Sam I knew it would be so much fun talking to you and I love your book and I got it on the iPad which I loved reading it on my iPad. "Get it done: From Procrastination to Genius in 15 minutes a day." Lots of exercises. I had the little bookmark highlights all over the place because I'm like "Yep, Yep, that’s what I'm going to do next." So it’s really a great workbook so I know it speaks to so many people out there listening to us right now. So thank you so much for writing your book and doing what was on your list of what you had to do next.

Sam: Thank you. Thank you. It was a joy. And get to work everybody and let me know how it goes. OK.

Alison: Exactly. Thank you.