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Procrastinating success

I’ve always been full of ideas – too many. In fact, I  have pages and pages of article, essay and booklet ideas that if I actually had the luxury of eight full writing hours a day (outside of client projects) it would take me several years to finish.

Even worse, before the advent of affordable home computers, word processing programs, and internet you would need time to go to the library, spend hours researching and writing out notes by hand, then re-arranging those notes and finally typing them out on an electric typewriter – where, if after subsequent editorial readings, you decided something wasn’t in the right place, you would have to completely re-type the entire page. As a student, I simply didn’t have time for all that so it justified my procrastination.

Additionally, I’m a a bit of perfectionist, a little obsessive compulsive. If I can’t do something a certain way (ie: what I deem to be right) then I get anxious and stressed and consequently can’t or won’t do it until circumstances are “right”. This, in turn, leads to procrastination – I’ll put off what very likely could be done at least to some degree, because I can’t do it how I think it should be done. Also, if the project seems so grand and I don’t know where or how to start I will procrastinate. Procrastination itself will subsequently stress me out and the cycle continues… They tell me procrastination is a Piscean trait, but maybe it’s a writers’ curse: so much to say and so little time!

Unless you’re writing fiction or some forms of non-fiction, you don’t have the luxury of pushing timely topics and newsworthy ideas aside; someone else will think of and cash in on it before you do or the topic becomes irrelevant.

So I realized how to beat myself at my own game.

  • Prioritize – It was a hard and tricky thing to learn, but I taught myself that absolutely everything is not urgent priority #1. Once I learned how to really look at my to-do lists or writing topics I was able to designate expiry dates and sort it out from there.
  • Not everything can be done today – I learned that it’s literally impossible. I resigned myself to the fact that tomorrow is another day and the world won’t fall apart if I don’t finish that article today (unless I’m on deadline!).
  • Distractions – This is maybe one of my worst procrastination pitfalls. I feel that I simply cannot write while the house is a mess; I simply must organize the desk and file those papers away because I can’t work with all that stuff around me; I really should make something fantastic for dessert tonight….It’s easy to find hundreds of non-priority things to do with a home office, but I’m good at doing so in another office as well. I’ve just had to train myself to fight the urge to do the things that really don’t need to be done right this moment.
  • Fight the fear of large tasks – Break them down into smaller ones. Realistically, you can only work on a project this way anyway, so by segmenting it and allowing yourself somewhat (I say somewhat – see next point) fluid deadlines you’ll feel less overwhelmed.
  • Set deadlines –  By not having a deadline you’re giving yourself permission to put it off and off again. Or sometimes the mind can be contrary: if you don’t think you have enough time try giving yourself ridiculous time constraints – if you need to leave in two hours to pick your kid up from soccer, limit yourself to an hour. You’ll be surprised at what your brain can do under pressure. And because you actually have two hours, you’ll be a doubly productive writing machine!
  • Know when to stop researching – I’m one of those people who loves to read and do research. And it’s so easy to convince yourself that research is a useful thing! You have to learn where to draw the line. For instance, a 1500 word piece is not going to need 20 pages of research material.
  • Big expectations – Sometimes I think that if I could just write this article so perfectly, every editor will want it, it’ll land me on a radio talk show, it’ll lead to the next great thing! That will put me off of even wanting to start, because I’ve already built up expectations in my head I couldn’t possibly live up to. Just write. Write, read, and revise until you think it’s the best you can do on this particular piece or topic. It doesn’t have to be your best work – it’s like how you can make scrumptious, moist blueberry muffins, but your chocolate chip cookies are bitter and hard. We are not all perfect at everything.
  • And sometimes you lose – Sometimes there really just isn’t time when personal stuff takes precedence – or someone else beats you to the punch. That’s just the way it goes. Move on to the next topic of your never-ending list of article/essay/story ideas.

Ironically, I could avoid the whole awful feeling that procrastination makes me feel by just DOING, because the sense of accomplishment from something finished is far more satisfying than the momentary relief I get from pushing something farther down the to-do list or to another day.

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