In my post, Dealing with Distraction Syndrome, I mainly covered the effect the internet has on our lives and our writing.
Yet there is much more than just the internet that causes procrastination.
Let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with having some downtime. We all need to unwind, even those of us who are pretty incapable of actually unwinding completely.
We still need some time and space to relax. But sometimes downtime can turn into “all the time”.
As a movie-junkie / series-addict, I love plonking myself on the sofa with my partner and watching a trilogy back-to-back or a whole series in one sitting.
Yet when those decadent days turn into “every weekend” then I know there’s a problem.
The trick is to pull back from the desire to do those things and treat them instead as a reward for good behaviour, good WRITING behaviour.
We do it all the time with other things: finished all the chores? You treat yourself to a sit-down and a coffee. Completed that essay? Go hang out with your friends.
I’m not saying treat your writing like a chore, but procrastination is SO easy and most times we don’t even realise we are doing it – not until a number of hours have passed.
You will Fail
Let’s start off nice and negative! You are going to fail. If procrastination is something you do (and let’s face it, who doesn’t) you are going to fail at beating it. But don’t worry, we all fail.
Success isn’t getting up one morning, deciding to do something amazing and just doing it (wouldn’t that be nice).
That’s the dream but the reality is usually littered with pit-holes and obstacles. The road to success is paved in failure…and determination to try again.
So accept that trying to follow a routine is hard and you will probably suck at it – at least at the beginning.
Also, there will be some moments in the middle when you were doing so well… then suddenly you crash out and the routine goes to hell.
Anyone who has tried to make a change in their life knows this.
Screwing up and not keeping to your routine will happen. Screwing up and wasting masses of time procrastinating will happen. Feeling shitty about all this will happen.
Because no matter how motivated you are, it is ‘HABIT’ that you need. The problem with habit is it takes time to form.
Do what you can to keep going, but accept that on the days you are sick in bed or that you have a massive work/school deadline etc that your routine will get messed up.
Getting bogged down with when you fail, will not help. So instead, accept it, let it go and try again.
The Power of No
Start saying no. In a tag-on to the above point, remember that while life and all its hectic demons like to get in our way, that doesn’t mean you need to get swept up in ALL of the hectisity (a great word if it was real… I’m adding that to my ever-growing list of made-up words I like).
If you are always called upon to do things or help out, you need to start saying no. As the so-called “Dependable” one in the family, I am often called on for all sorts.
This can be for a range of favours – IT support, running errands, sounding-board, selling items online, taking photos… these things eat into my week and it has to stop.
Now I have expertly cultivated my anti-social, introverted personality so well that at least with boring and anxiety-inducing social obligations (from weddings to Christmas parties) it has become almost written in stone that I won’t attend.
Sometimes we can become the first port of call for a request, especially if we are good at it, supportive or have done it before. Consider saying no, offer to help later on or suggest someone else they can ask.
Don’t be guilt-tripped and if you think that might happen and you don’t deal well with it, then turn off your phone and don’t answer the door. If they can’t get hold of you, they can’t ask you.
Your writing time is precious and needs to be defended. Many people won’t understand it, they think of it like a hobby that’s not really important. In which case, they consider their requirement takes precedent. But writing is important to you and that’s what matters.
Writing chunks and Brain-fog
At my best, I would sit down at the computer and stay there for a good 6 hours and just type. With the odd tea break thrown in and some back stretches breaking up the day (sometimes eating, if I remembered). However, that’s not something I could do every day.
There will be days when the brain-fog has you and the idea of writing your story for hours at a time will be like trying to run underwater. This is one of those sneaky times when procrastination slithers its way in.
So, get around this by breaking your writing time into small, manageable chunks.
Writing 15 minutes every day is better than trying to write X amount of words every day. Because if you say 500 words, one day that takes you 5 minutes, another day it takes you two hours.
Make a decision to write for 15 minutes every day. That way if you are suffering the brain-fog you won’t feel like you are slogging your guts out and turning the whole thing into a chore.
If you’re in the perfect writing mood then you can choose to surpass the 15 minutes and do whatever you feel.
But by having at LEAST 15 minutes, you are more likely to succeed in writing every day and less likely to cave to the seductive whisperings of procrastination. It also helps to build up the habit.
Make time for your writing. Plan your day, your week, your weekend… yes things will crop up that were not in the plan but that won’t happen every time.
Plan your writing time first. You’re more likely to keep it. Leave space in your schedule for slotting in things that may come up. This means you won’t have to sacrifice writing time.
Ebb & Flow
Think about your own ebb and flow of energy and focus. Don’t sit there stubbornly saying “I write best at night”. Maybe you do, maybe you did, but sometimes things change.
Maybe a few times a year you wake up early in the morning with tons of energy and great focus.
Don’t just ignore that and wait until nightfall to write when you might suddenly feel sluggish! Keep an eye on these changes and go with it.
What are your tips for beating procrastination?