The Write Thing - Procrastination
This month Rachel Dove, Aja and Reese Ryan share with us what to do when your only motivation is to put things off to the last minute!
I am currently Hinching my fridge. Don't know what that means? You are probably not one of the 1.9m followers of hers then, at the time of writing this. For those who don't know, Mrs. Hinch is an Instagram star, showing the world her eBay bargains and cleaning rituals in her own house. Some good tips too, many that I have been doing for years, but still... Her feeds make me laugh and cheer me up, and the cleaning bug kicks in and then you are off!
I have also Kondo'd my wardrobe, bought stocks in Zoflora, and have made countless to-do lists, not to mention the weekend Netflix binges. Why? Procrastination. I have a book due as always, and as well as the mind numbing hours required to sit in a chair and write, it actually has to make sense, be liked, loved and adored by my editor and agent, and the readers. No pressure then! This is book eight too, so it's not like I haven't done this before. Add to this the normal day-to-day stuff of family, day job and studying, and then try to have a social life and, well, you get the idea.
In today's society, we are told that we work too hard, and stress too much. Yes, but we also have mini computers strapped to us daily in the form of smartphones, and our TV's, e-readers and laptops are all singing and dancing. Sometimes, it is hard to carve out time where you can escape to your words, headphones on, and write the damn book.
So, priorities are needed. Writing is my passion and my main job, I just teach to keep my hand in, and because I missed the work, so it needs priority. Morning person? Great! I know many writers who are up at five a.m. bashing out the words before their kids wake up and the day truly starts. Night owl? Cool, me too! Wait till the house sleeps (and in the case of my dog, Oliver, snores like a drunk pig) and get that wordage down!
I carry a notebook everywhere I go, so I have written chapters on trains, in parks, by the side of football and rugby pitches, swimming pools, and on holiday. The trick is to treat it like a business and still maintain the passion of a hobby or creative impulse. If you need to leave the house, pick a nice coffee shop or library, and set yourself up there. I work from home with my writer buddy dog, so I schedule my time.
My top tips for procrastination are:
1. Try to limit your Netflix obsession (I fail sometimes, but hey!) Use the episodes as rewards i.e. 1000 words equals one episode, or leave it till the evening when you have put your work away.
2. Protect your writing time—when you are home writing, people think you are free to run errands for them, mind their kids, come out to play. If it's your writing time, tell them that. Protect that time.
3. Internet—if you can't help but peek at Twitter at the latest hashtag scandal, cut the internet off if you can, or hide your phone from view and ignore any beeps and bongs.
4. Set targets—Set yourself a target and try to stick to it, whether it be daily or weekly, or per book. Life gets in the way though, so be prepared to change!
5. Don't beat yourself up about your work. Write the best you can, and once the first draft is down on the page, the real sculpting can begin.
6. Always, have fun! If you are feeling tired or life is hard, the words won't flow, take a break! Walk the dog, go meet a friend, go shopping, watch your favourite film. Refill your creative well with good stories on screen and in print form, and be present wherever you are. Keeping family time and writing time/admin/promo/meetings/fancy parties is difficult, but doable.
7. Lastly, be prepared to take a beating, and be in awe of writer life. Some days I am at fancy party, or giving a talk, others I am cleaning out my fridge, hanging with my kids and moaning at the fact that people keep making a mess of my house and leave every blooming light on in the house. Publishing has its ups and downs, but the most important thing is to keep writing, silence those demons and enjoy writing...and life!
So today, what will you be doing? Hinch-ing the fridge, Kondo-ing the tiny human's clothes, or writing away? Whatever you do, make it count.
I selected this topic because I’m a bit of an expert. No research needed. No need to quote any other references. The best example here is me. Even as I type this, I know that I have fallen into my previously typical writing procrastination trap. This article should have already been written and turned in and it would have been if I could only be one of those people that does things in advance for what I know has a deadline, but alas I am not one of those folks. I mean I’m starting to be but let me stay on track here. I was literally coaxed into turning this thing in… it’s sometimes that bad for me. I like—no I love—to wait; though not everything gets that behavior from me.
But writing generally does. The why of it is complicated. I've always thought procrastination worked to my advantage, that the added pressure made me like a mad woman churning out words and ultimately stories and articles, and maybe that is true. In fact, I know it is. Plenty of college papers were turned in after a night burning the midnight oil and the grade received confirmed that procrastination was designed for me, but the anxiety that sometimes comes with procrastination has had its negative effects on me and I am working to turn over a new leaf. I no longer like the feeling of not knowing if I will be able to produce a certain amount of content in a set time. Procrastinating leads to a lot of “I’ll let you know when”. Or “It will be soon, I promise” and the word soon is definitely not the soon that most people think of.
For the last two releases of mine, Love's Required and Love Taps I gave myself a firm deadline, worked hard to meet it, and was successful. It wasn't an unpleasant experience being on time, in fact I felt successful, but it did feel unusual. Once finished I twiddled my thumbs for a little while and I wondered what I was supposed to do. I cleaned the house I’d been avoiding looking at, and I organized my children’s clothes, I even cooked a new recipe that hubby enjoyed. It took a few days before I realized that all this extra time I had could be used on promotional work, graphic design or plotting out the next story, and all those at home things I had been putting off. I was amazed at how much I got done because I didn't waste my time with other things when I should have been writing.
Was it that I was unmotivated, or that I was stuck in the story? Never. Not for me. Often times I just want to do everything else and still write, and only one of those deserved my undivided attention. Writing, at least for me, isn't a job where multi-tasking is necessary. Once I made the decision to get so many words written by a certain date—no matter how many other things I'd love to do as well—and put in the time to finish it became easier to stay on task. If I wrote the words I was scheduled to write then—and only then—would I have time for the other writing-related things which are a part of my job. Being productive and on schedule allows me to enjoy incentives.
I promise—I think—that the next article I’m scheduled to write will be turned in early.
Reese Ryan—My Lifelong Battle with Procrastination
It's always easiest to identify both a problem and its solution from a safe distance. When you’re the one shoving heart-shaped Krispy Kreme donuts in your mouth on Valentine's Day, despite your New Year's Resolution to "eat healthier"...well, suddenly things aren’t so black and white. You’re left with a sea of interesting shades of gray and a gut filled with guilt that makes the taste of those donuts go sour once they hit your belly.
For me, procrastination is the same sort of sad game. I know what to do, but doing it isn't easy. So, if you're expecting an authoritative article by a productivity expert who’ll share exactly how she overcame her battle with procrastination…not this time, friend.
This is a come-to-Jesus (or the deity or non-deity of your choice) moment. Pull up a chair in front of the mirror and let's have a little tête-à-tête between our procrastinating selves and the version of us who clearly understands all of the reasons procrastinating is a terrible idea with unwelcome consequences. The goal is to get both versions of ourselves on the same page. Let's start the conversation by asking ourselves the all-important question.
Why Do I Procrastinate?
That answer will be unique to each of us. In fact, our reasons for procrastinating probably differ from one situation to the next. For instance, my reason for waiting until the last minute to wake up, shower and get dressed for the job I abhorred was very different from my reasons for stalling on finishing my first manuscript. Or my current one. Or my last three…you get the picture.
So let’s start with those deep-seated, insidious reasons. Ask yourself why you’re procrastinating on a particular project. Dive deep. Avoid the natural tendency to accept our own BS excuses and be completely candid with yourself about why you’re procrastinating on a specific activity. Then look for ways to genuinely address those issues.
Overwhelmed by what feels like an enormous project? Break it down into manageable bits and tackle the first one. It'll give you something to check off your to-do list and a sense of accomplishment.
Obsessed with perfection? No project will ever feel perfect. Allow yourself the time and space to do your very best but realize that done is better than perfect.
Other reasons for procrastinating include self-doubt, fear of failure, fear of success or a deep aversion to a task. Addressing these issues may feel daunting, but the stress induced by continual procrastination is so much worse. Which brings us to the next point.
Consider the Consequences of Procrastination
Remember the last time you waited until the eleventh hour to complete a project, but it took longer than you anticipated, and you ended up pulling a grueling all-nighter? Okay, maybe that’s just me. But if you’re a serial procrastinator, you’ve probably had similar experiences. Recall the unnecessary stress it caused. Perhaps you missed out on precious family time. Or maybe you had to pay late fees or a rush charge due to your procrastination.
When faced with a challenging project, consider the costs and consequences of procrastination. Is delaying the project now worth the aggravation and stress you’ll feel later? If the answer is no, make a viable plan to attack the project head-on.
What Works for You?
Avoidance is my default reaction to anything disconcerting or unpalatable. But at the culmination of two crazy-busy years of writing, things boiled over. I was behind on nearly every project, missing out on family events, stressed out, and repeatedly ill.
I needed to make a change.
So I invested in a productivity boot camp for writers and began experimenting with productivity-boosting techniques. Then I created my plan of attack:
- Realize that I can’t do everything, and it’s okay to say no.
- Schedule writing time in my planner.
- Work during my most productive hours of the day.
- Unplug from political news and social media.
- Sprint using my Alpha Smart device, which doesn’t offer distracting internet access.
- Use a Pomodoro-style timer app that helps keep me on task.
- Schedule time for distractions.
- Check in with my accountability partners.
- Most importantly, prioritize my tasks. Do the important work first, rather than fun or busy work.
Two months in, it’s still very much a work in progress. But when I follow the plan, I see marked improvement, and I’m encouraged to work harder at it. The key is getting both sensible me and procrastinating me on the same page.
How about you?
Procrastination is a hard habit to break. But if you’re weary of the chaos and anxiety caused by constant procrastination, it's time to make a change.
Demand honest answers of yourself about why you’re procrastinating. Then address the problem head-on. Experiment with productivity methods to discover what works for you. Don't be afraid to try something new, even if it feels uncomfortable at first. But don't hesitate to cut your losses and move on if someone else’s “sure-fire” technique doesn't work for you.
Despite the craziness of those frantic two years, I managed to release five books per year that I’m exceedingly proud of. I’m on track to do the same this year. But just because I made it work, doesn't mean it's how I work best. So I’ll continue to battle procrastination and distractibility until I find the system that works best for me.
What are your block breakers and plotting saviours? If you have any tips for writing success, please share below in the comments or on social media #TheWriteThing. We'd love to know!