ten ways to beat procrastination

I have finely honed procrastination skills, and they're pretty much always at the fore. Tricking myself out of procrastinating is an endless process which constantly requires new weapons in the arsenal. Any time one tactic stops working, it's time to bring in a different big gun. Off the top of my head, here's ten of them1:

  1. Cultivate routine and habit.

    “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” – Peter De Vries

    As the routine gathers momentum, knowing that you have an appointment to write means you will, when that time ticks around, be ready to write.

  2. Employ the 50/10 (or 48/12) routine.

    Write for 50 minutes, then take a 10 minute break. During the break, make sure you get up and walk around, maybe catch a breath of fresh air. Get the blood flowing again. Don't stay sitting at the computer. (I tend to find I'll push well past 50 minutes in the first hour if I'm not careful. That's less a problem in subsequent hours.)

    Because you only have to commit to 50 minutes, because you only have 50 minutes before you have to take a break, you focus better and write faster.

  3. Set realistic targets.

    Nothing is quite so disheartening as consistently falling short of expectations. Don't set a daily or weekly target that means stretching so far you can never reach it. (Likewise, don't set a target that's too easy to reach: otherwise, you can find yourself skimping off when you reach your target. Always push past the boundary if you can.)

  4. Declutter your workspace.

    Check out Steve Pavlina's Creating a Productive Workspace for inspiration. Or just procrastinate by wandering through the photos of writers workspaces Tobias has collated. (Ssh, I didn't just encourage you to procrastinate. Honest.)

  5. Bust up the routine or habits.

    It is true that the inside world creates the outside world, but the outside world and our tools also affect the way we form our thoughts. Try skywriting. – Natalie Goldberg, "Writing Down The Bones"

    Change where you write. Change what time of day you write. Change the way you write, swapping computer for pen and paper, or vice versa. Change your process — if you follow the "tune and spew" process, try writing fresh words before you edit the previous days'. If you always write fresh words first, try editing the previous days' writing to get you back in the groove of the story and hopefully make today's first sentence that little less difficult to find.

  6. Pause for exercise.

    Tell yourself you can take as many pauses in the writing as you need — but only if you're going to do sit-ups, push-ups, star-jumps or other such aerobic activity while you're not at the computer. It will keep the blood moving and stop your thoughts stagnating. If you love exercise more than you love writing, you're a freak this tactic may not work quite so well for you.

  7. Trick yourself.

    It is important to have a way worked out to begin your writing; otherwise, washing the dishes will become the most important thing on earth — anything that will divert you from writing. Finally one just has to shut up, sit down, and write. That is painful. Writing is so simple, basic, and austere. There are no fancy gadgets to make it more attractive. Our monkey minds … like to complicate simple tasks. There is a Zen saying, "Talk when you talk, walk when you walk, and die when you die." Write when you write. Stop battling yourself with guilt, accusations, and strong-arm threats. – Natalie Goldberg, "Writing Down The Bones"

    This works with starting (I'll just write another ten words or so) and with maintaining progress (I'll just finish this sentence, this paragraph, this page, this scene, this chapter…)

  8. Put the pressure on

    Make an appointment to write — four pm, for one hour — and stick to it. If you only have a half-hour free that day, use it.

    (I tend to find this can focus me. If the root cause of my procrastination is physical or emotional exhaustion, however, this tactic only makes me procrastinate even more. Steer clear of it in that case; negative thoughts aren't the aim of the game here.)

  9. Make procrastination work for you.

    This falls under Trick Yourself. If you can't find the first sentence, start by researching something you needed to know. You may find inspiration flooding back as you research, and you'll turn back to the writing.

    (It's a tricky one. Most times, I'll simply get lost in the research for hours on end. Curiosity killed the cat, and it can just as easily kill all the spare time left in a day. But sometimes it can get you back in the groove you need.)

  10. The Cultural Stash

    Keep your cultural stash stuffed full to bursting. That way, inspiration for something is always just below the surface. If you're truly blocked on one project, give yourself permission to work on a different one for a day or two.

Any other tactics that work for you right now?

  1. And by all references to "you" in the list I, naturally, mean "me" 😉 []

7 thoughts on “ten ways to beat procrastination

  1. Since getting Eddie and having to create a whole new workspace because there was no way he'd fit on my desk, I've had awesome productivity.

    But then the temperature went up. I can't sit in my room on hot days. It's crankitude inducing.

    I have found, though, that I do need to…um, warn myself, if I'm going to write. If I have a day off, I can't just go and write in that day off – a couple of days ahead I have to have made the decision that that's what I'm going to do. Springing writing on myself means I sit there feeling clueless.

  2. I love my laptop for the whole portable workspace thing. Means whenever I'm feeling too hemmed in by the desktop I can go elsewhere, without sacrificing the computer. (Pen and paper is achingly slower than typing, for me.)

    The concept of advanced notice is an interesting one. I think I might do that, too, although I've never realised it before. I also need to maintain continuity: if I'm working on the novel and take a day off from it, I definitely need advanced notice to get back in to it, otherwise it's all too daunting.

  3. I haven't moved Eddie around the house much. I tried him out at a cafe, but it was too noisy for me to concentrate, so I think I'll sus out libraries instead. Actually, the best thing about Eddie is that he doesn't normally have an internet connection. What a wonderful procrastination, the internets!

    Warning yourself is pretty much like making an appointment, except in my case, it's an appointment way, way, way in the future. Like, Wednesday. If it isn't too hot.

    I've given up on trying to write in any sort of routine, or regularly, until my job changes.

  4. When I'm feeling very, very lazy and all I want to do is watch TV, I compromise by writing on the laptop in front of the TV. I write much slower, but some days without that compromise I wouldn't have written at all. (And yes, the laptop doesn't connect to the internet if it's been hibernated, which also cuts down on procrastination value. But at the same time cuts down on quick research.)

    I can't really do cafes, not for the noise (iPod!) but more because I'm too self-conscious.

  5. I doubt I could produce anything in front of the tv – I don't watch enough of it to be able to filter it out. I get too sucked in and captivated, especially in the ads.

    And yeah, the whole people walking behind me being able to see over my shoulder was a big deterrant with the cafe.

    I like the pause for exercise tip. I think I'll try that one, even though the dogs may look at me funny. I don't think wandering into the kitchen to make a cup of tea really counts.

  6. No problems. That's a favourite trick. And it works in really well if you have errands to run (which often fray my concentration and leave me starting nothing because I have to leave in x minutes anyway).

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