Procrastination is a fact of life for writers. It simply comes with the territory of working on big projects.
I know this well. I may as well be the Mayor of Procrastination Town. Actually, I’m more like the queen. I just need a tiara.
I know all the reasons why it’s better to write tomorrow instead of today. I know all the great excuses about waiting for inspiration or for the planets to align.
And I also know how awful it feels to miss out on opportunities because you didn’t do the writing.
That’s why I want to give you three simple tips for busting procrastination.
Step 1 Ask: “Do I know What to Do Next?”
Sometimes we procrastinate because we just don’t know what the next step is. Every time you think about doing the task, your brain nixes it because it doesn’t know how to proceed.
When it comes to writing, there are a lot of ways you can get your next steps: go back to your outline, brainstorm or mind-map, talk to yourself or a writing buddy.
But whatever you do, figure out what you’re trying to write.
Working on a novel? Grab a copy of Recipe for Outlining and go through the section on creating stepping stones or the ideas for brainstorming.
And if you’re still stuck, schedule a Write Your Book Clarity Session with me. Because I promise you that you know a lot more about your book than you think you know. Once I ask you the right questions, that knowledge is going to come falling out of your mouth and surprise the socks off of you. (And you get a recording of the session afterwards, so you can make sure you don’t forget everything you figured out once you get back to writing!)
Working on blog posts? Give yourself a template to work from so you have a clear goal and can simply fill in the blanks.
Struggling to put together your business story or out-of-this-world copy for a sales page? Let’s brainstorm together and figure out exactly what you can say that will wow your ideal customers.
It might feel frustrating that you’re technically still not writing while you’re figuring out your next steps. But trust me, you’re busting procrastination nonetheless by removing the no-idea-what-to-do-next block.
Step 2 Commit to a Bite-Sized Goal
Sometimes we procrastinate because the size of the task ahead is overwhelming. It’s like when you think about cleaning your entire house. It’s such a big job, you don’t want to start. But what if you stopped thinking “I’m going to clean the whole house” and started thinking, “I’m just going to sweep the kitchen”?
I have this weird habit of dusting when I talk on the phone. Honestly, I never dust my house other than that. The thought of dusting is overwhelming. There are so many books!!! But as I chat on the phone to my sister or my best friend, I just start tackling the surfaces closest to me. Once I’ve hit those, I wander around and do a few more. Small bites is the key.
Enough thinking about house cleaning! Let’s apply this to your writing.
Try the Pomodoro Technique. This is nothing more complicated than setting a timer for 25 minutes and committing to doing ONLY the task you set for yourself for that time.
When you set a timer, it makes you realize that the commitment is reasonable. 25 minutes — that’s one episode of a sitcom on Netflix. You can totally do that!
The timer also makes you buckle down. It creates just a wee bit o’ pressure and makes you want to dive into the task because you know the clock is ticking.
Committing to a small task also gives you a win. And once you’ve gotten a win related to this project, you’re going to be a lot more motivated to continue because you’ll feel good.
Speaking of feeling good, let’s move on to Step 3.
Step 3 Give Yourself a Reward
Here’s something I’ve learned in my many years of procrastination: the longer I procrastinate on a project, the harder it is to do it.
Each day that I put it off, the project gains one more layer of guilt. I know I was supposed to do it, I didn’t do it, and now I feel bad. Every time I think about the project, I feel icky. (Oh my gosh, I totally have a project that feels like this right now!!!! Wah!!!!)
You’ve probably experienced this just with returning an email or finishing a project for work.
It’s time to change the vibration around your project.
When you sit down to execute on your small commitment, choose a reward you’ll give yourself afterward. Think small and really gratifying. Five minutes of a fun activity? (That’s what Signor Pomodoro recommends.) 10 minutes of reading? Buying that eBook you’ve been eyeing?
Make your reward…
a) something you’re actually looking forward to and
b) something that’s not a time-suck.
It won’t help your procrastination problem in the long run if you’re doing 25 minutes of writing for every 3 hours of surfing Facebook. I know. I’ve tried this. 🙁
Now, you might be saying, “Megan, why would I give myself a reward? I’ve been bad by procrastinating. I don’t deserve a reward!”
It’s not about deserve. It’s about retraining your brain using a form of positive manipulation.
The reward is creating a positive association around this writing project. And if it’s been sitting as long and accruing as many guilt layers as this grant I’m supposed to write, you need it.
I’ll catch you later. I’ve got to go figure out how many fields of the online grant application form I can fill out in 25 minutes before diving into Persepolis.
Leave a comment below and tell me how procrastination shows up for you. Do you think this three-step system would help?
Did you find this approach helpful? It’s actually one of the many tips and tricks I offer for beating writer’s block and finishing the first draft of your novel faster. Want more strategies like this one? Check out my latest book, Recipe for Drafting, available now for Kindle and in paperback.
Photo of Kitty Hiding is perfect! I relate… too much.
Your hints and tips are much appreciated and spot on, Megan!
Melinda, glad you found the tips helpful. Happy writing!
I’m a master procrastinator! I’ve been writing my WIP by hand and keep putting off typing up the 3 notebooks I have! That’s why I’m using NaNoWriMo this year to motivate me to finally get it done so I can finish the book!! I make it my goal every day to type at least 1600-2000, or most days at least, and I reward myself by reading or watching an episode of a TV show after my son goes to bed. I’m well on my way to getting it done!
Awesome, C.N. It sounds like you’re discovering what motivates you to get the writing done, and that’s a HUGE part of busting procrastination. Love it!