Full disclosure: I’m never going to stop writing articles about procrastination.
As long as procrastination continues to plague us, and ruin our relationships with work and the quality of the things we make—as long as it continues to be the scourge of a generation, a shape-shifting enemy that changes form as soon as we find something to fight it with—it will continue to be a focus. In some ways, the fight against procrastination really is the fight for our lives—and I know how dramatic that sounds.
I’m not the only one that takes it so seriously. I remember years ago being very taken by this TED talk on procrastination. It’s well worth watching the whole thing, for its observations on the phenomenon and a few actionable strategies for effectively dealing with the problem. But what was really seared into my mind so many years later was the moment when he talks about how other people describe procrastination—what it represents to them, what it’s done to them. What they feel it’s taken from them. It’s a significantly emotional thing.
Just as I’ll continue to write on the subject, I’ll likely always be seeking out resources and new thinking on how to approach, and one day conquer, our great mutual enemy. We all have a complicated relationship with procrastination, and of course with our own selves and work in general. And it can be frustrating when we see a successful figure in the world, whether they’re in our field or in a completely different one (darn you, Billie Eilish). But when we get a glimpse into the process or mindset of someone successful like that, I often find the insights to be invaluable. This week that wisdom came from an unexpected source.
I was listening to my favorite podcast, the inimitable The Watch from the The Ringer—it’s a pop culture, prestige TV round-up/review type show—and heard an interview with Joe Brumm, the Australian animator and director behind the smash children’s program Bluey. If you’re not familiar, Bluey occupies a unique position in media and culture today—universally lauded by fans, critics, children, and even parents, who breathe sighs of relief whenever their children request it over Paw Patrol.
At this point it’s a massive media empire that’s spawned merchandise, books, a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon, and even a stage play, on top of a year-round production schedule. And Joe Brumm is the beating heart at the center of it. In addition to originally creating the show, designing its world and animating all the characters, Brumm almost singlehandedly writes every single episode. That would already be a lot in the world of TV where shows can go on for 30 or 50 episodes over a few years; Bluey’s current tally at the time of writing is 143.
I was happy to hear host Andy Greenwald ask Blumm exactly what I wanted him to—and what every creative would probably want to know—this simple enough set of questions: first, “how do you do that?” and, as a follow-up, “why do you do that?” His answer was in three parts. And it really broke through the noise and said something I hadn’t really heard or felt before. Here’s what he said, in three parts.
I’m not about to give it away
He thought about it for a second, and started to articulate: “it comes down to—I’ve been an animator for most of my career, and always made things for other people. But the goal I’ve always had is to one day get to write and make my own films.” He worked for a long time like that, patiently working on his craft. And then it happened — his show, his idea, was given a chance to be brought into the world.
And usually when a show or a script gets bought and given the greenlight, the original creator will take a larger role of overseeing and directing the general vision of things. But he won’t be in the trenches writing every script, putting every comma perfectly in place like they used to. With Joe, though, things were different. He realized the writing was almost what he loved the most.
“I found myself in the position where it was all happening, and I loved it. And I thought, ‘I don’t wanna give away the best part of this.’”
In a way, being endorsed by someone else, getting that confirmation that the work he was doing was worthwhile, was almost all Brumm needed to kickstart things. He knew it was working, so now he never had to think about letting it go.
We can apply that mindset to our own work, even if we’re not directly staring down the reality of it like he is. The pursuit of our goals, and the work required to pull our dreams out of the air and make them real, is not at all less negotiable.
Children write letters of appreciation to Joe and the show. Critics like Greenwald reach out from across the ocean with praise and requests for interviews. His work is making an impact, literally across the world. So why would he slow down now?
“I worked my whole life to get to this point. And it’s just really worth doing”
If you’re lucky enough to find something like that for yourself, whether or not you have yet found commercial success in doing it, you don’t dare stop. And you don’t dare dilly-dally about when you could be enriching your life by doing it right this second. It’s something not everyone finds in their life. So we cherish it.
“It’s one of the hardest things I’ve done. But I keep doing it. I love it.”
It’s extremely difficult to do
“Every episode is difficult to write. Every single one — at least starting out. But, you know, you just have to do it.”
This might sound like a counter-intuitive thing to focus on as we try to decode our blockages and find inspiration to work. But it really struck me that it was one of the things that came to Joe’s mind as he tried to articulate his motivation. The difficulty of the work is almost a confirmation that it’s worth doing.
You have to dig deep to do right by it. You have to find ways and space to grow in yourself to get it done effectively. It’s a forcing exercise that pulls you, ready or not, towards more growth.
The work is valuable and worth doing and it’s right that it takes a lot out of us to do it well. If it were easy, everyone would do it. If it were easy, you wouldn’t feel proud once you did it.
It was compelling to me how Joe just threw that in as a detail — not as if it was an important thing or certainly one that kept him from working or slowed the work down. It’s just a fact of life; maybe an inconvenience. But in terms of making the decision to do it or not? It barely played a factor.
There is no time to waste
Brumm repeated the next question before he answered it. “How do I do it? I don’t know, but—you don’t have any time to waste, so procrastination isn’t an option. Production starts and you just have to write it that’s it.”
That was the whole answer. I was stunned when I heard it the first time. I expected an answer full of process—a description of the type of notepad he uses, or when he wakes up in the morning, or the sources of inspiration where his ideas might come from. But after hearing the simplicity of his answer, I realized: all of those things are just extraneous details that we deal with later. The important part, maybe the only important part, is going. Doing.
With him, “no time to waste” was true on all fronts. Most immediately, production deadlines, a crew of people waiting on him, paychecks that need to clear—all things that simply can’t be ignored or put off until tomorrow.
But for us, it’s true too. We may not have strict deadlines on the work we’re doing. It might be that no one expects us to do anything pertaining to our dream work, ever. We have the option, technically, to stop and give up and just not pursue our goals.
But you and I both know that’s not really an option for us. These are our dreams that we’re talking about.
And you and I both know another inarguable truth. There really is no time to waste. Enough time has already elapsed due to other forces in and out of our control. Now it’s go time. And giving in to procrastination, as powerful and enduring and pervasive and shape-shifting as it is, is not an option.
[Joe Brumm. Illustration: Costa Daniel Kassab. Copyright Ludo Studio Pty Ltd. All credits to The Australian.]