The Writer's Guide to Procrastination
Procrastination is a dirty word in among writers.
We jest about it, and while nearly all of us will admit to eyeing the windows with one hand toward the Windex while on deadline, we’re still fairly certain there is a special place in hell for writers who do actually procrastinate.
Instead of denying it, I find it’s best to embrace procrastination. In fact, are you aware that in 1996 Stanford’s John Perry wrote a Nobel Prize winning essay on procrastination? His method, “Structured Procrastination,” became a book, The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing.
This was exciting news to me. I had no idea that concepts such as my advanced works on the theories of procrastination were lofty enough that they were being studied by the professorial type. I have not, however read his John Perry’s book. (We all know you don’t read Gone with the Wind while writing your own consummate tale of a Southern belle who needs therapy set amidst the Civil War and Atlanta burning.)
Instead I present to you my handy tips that allow you to embrace your procrastination and still get the job/s done.
1. Schedule deadlines earlier than they’re due.
2. Utilize tools.
3. Break it down.
4. Bargain with yourself.
5. Create a procrastination list.
6. Re-prioritize and relist often.
Scheduling deadlines earlier than they’re due is a no-brainer. But tricking your mind into believing it is the real deadline is the key to meeting your deadlines while procrastinating.
That’s where utilizing tools comes in: every calendar, (virtual or paper), phone reminder, computer appointment scheduler MUST reflect the revised deadline. Use your tools!
I recommend an editorial calendar, one that is dedicated only to writing deadlines-no dentist appointments allowed on here. How you maintain your personal life is another issue. I added the deadline for this blog post to my editorial calendar. It was due on Wednesday, but I tricked myself into believing it was due on Tuesday. So I panicked on Tuesday and got the job done and in on deadline. Viola! Of course this is based on the assumption that ‘somewhere’ you have the real deadline filed away.
Breaking it down is simply the “how do you eat an elephant theory of project management.” The answer of course is “in small bites.” Take the project and create small doable steps. Then when you’re procrastinating, be sure to bargain with yourself. If you do one small bite you get a reward. So rough draft a synopsis by noon or spit out a crappy first chapter this afternoon and you get to mess around on Facebook this evening. The rewards must have emotional value and be as clearly defined as your bite. If you keep a large stash of chocolate readily available at all times, then chocolate is not a valuable reward. However, if you are working on your laptop and have disconnected the internet, then your email is a tasty reward.
Create a procrastination list. This is huge. Why waste an hour doing nothing to avoid a synopsis when you can knock off things that need to be done on your procrastination list? (God forbid you should actually scrub the toilet bowl!)
This technique avoids self-loathing and actually boosts your motivation. The more successful you feel, the more likely you are to write that synopsis. Success begets success. Keep a list of small and annoying but fairly easy to accomplish procrastinated chores on paper where you can see them from your working space. When you feel the urge to clean, or surf the net when you are supposed to be doing something else, reach for the list.
Re-prioritize and relist. This is the fine art of acknowledging that just because yesterday when you created your to-do list, writing a synopsis seemed like a good idea for today, doesn’t mean it actually is a good idea today. Don’t be afraid to re-prioritize your list according to your mood, the alignment of the planets or any other plausible excuse. And if you do something that can in anyway be considered part of your job as a writer, but it wasn’t on the list, of course you will add it to the list and then cross it off as done utilizing a red gel pen.
That’s it. Now hold your head up and announce to the world, “I’m a productive procrastinator and I’m proud of it!”