If you’re a writer, do you find excuses not to write? You might not do it consciously. Sometimes it just happens.
Should you be writing now instead of reading this?
Maybe you should be writing but you find yourself sifting through an endless stream of tweets and status updates.
Or you should be writing but you don’t think you’ve seen the episode of House that’s just starting…
Or you should be writing but you’ve decided that you’ll do it tomorrow, when you have more time to really do it justice.
Are you procrastinating?
Getting started is arguably the most difficult part of the writing process.
Showing up? You can do that. Having ideas? Yeah, easy (and if it isn’t read this). Got the ability to do whatever it is that you need to do? Yes. At least you think so. The least fun part is sitting down to do the work.
Welcome to procrastination, population you. When you need to get things done, it’s not a fun place to be.
In psychology, procrastination refers to the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of lower priority, or doing something from which one derives enjoyment, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time. – Wikipedia
Why do we put things off? There are several possible reasons. See if any of these ring a psychological bell…
Climbing the unclimbable mountain
You might feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work facing you – the bigger or more complex the project or task, the higher the procrastination level.
Starting a big project is like standing at the foot of a mountain you’ve promised to climb. The way up might have seemed straightforward in your head. But now it looks daunting and bloody hard work.
If you’re being honest with yourself, it’s a little bit scary too. There are lots of places where you could lose your footing, slip and plummet into a chasm of failure. There are no short cuts either. No wonder it’s often a wrench to get started.
Doing nothing (or something/anything else) is the easier option.
Procrastinators unite… tomorrow
Procrastination also springs from laziness and bad time management.
If you think to yourself “I’ve got lots of time to do this task, I don’t need to start it right now”, you might be technically correct. But that means there’s also lots of time for good ideas to escape, for motivation to wane and for pressure to mount.
Get started, do things early and you have time to overcome any problems and finesse your project to a successful end.
Avoid setting meaningless deadlines
As for bad time management, it’s easy to complain that there aren’t enough hours in the day. Or that you’re too tired. That’s procrastination again. You’ve got the same amount of time as everybody else. It’s how you use it.
If you have a week to complete a project and don’t start it until there are only two days to go, it’s not going to be an enjoyable experience.
It’s all too easy to get bogged down in planning or prep work that makes you feel busy – setting goals, revamping your to-do list or breaking your work into small chunks.
If you work solo, you can set deadlines. But procrastination usually finds ways for you to ignore them. A self-imposed deadline can always be pushed back. And back. And back…
Got a great idea or a task to complete? Got the time to tackle it? Then what are you waiting for?
Facing your fear of failure
Motivation can be destroyed by the nagging fear that you’re going to fail, that people won’t like what you’re doing, or that you’re way out of your depth.
This fear fosters doubt and often leads you to re-examine how and why you’re doing a task. Before you know it, you’re over thinking your approach and criticising it unfairly. You might even talk yourself out of doing it by convincing yourself that it won’t work or that it’s a bad idea.
Your confidence takes a hit. It sucks the enjoyment out of your tasks and projects and if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll look for excuses to avoid doing it. Procrastination is standing there with open arms…
Working with a rebel yell
Dig into the psychology of procrastination and there’s a small but powerful element of rebellion involved. When you know that you have to do a task, you often subconsciously fight against the control that the task imposes, delaying the task or even dismissing it.
Any of those sound familiar? The more you procrastinate, the more it becomes a habit that’s hard to break.
How to beat procrastination
There’s no magic formula or golden key. But here are three solid steps that could help you on your way.
Step 1. ‘Action’
When you have a task to complete, just make a dent in it. Strike the first blow. Take that first step up that metaphorical mountain.
It’s OK to start small. Open that first email, write the first line, open the accounts spreadsheet. Once you start, going back to do some more work doesn’t seem like such a chore.
Step 2. ‘Imperfection’
Realise that whatever you do next isn’t going to be perfect. And that’s fine. Really. It’s fine.
Perfectionism can hold you back from ever getting started. You feel like you haven’t got enough time to do a good job or don’t know enough. You feel like you need to do more research/planning or another edit in a lengthening line of edits.
Step 3. ‘Focus’
Minimise distractions. Don’t just ignore email, Twitter, Facebook, other websites. Switch off your internet connection or go somewhere that doesn’t have Wi-Fi or a television.
Work somewhere different. Eliminate the familiarity of your surroundings and the distractions that go with them. Force yourself to focus on the task in hand because, once you’ve eliminated all distractions, writing is the only thing left that you can do.
Don’t let procrastination stand in the way of what you want to do.