How to beat procrastination for good

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Is procrastination the thief of YOUR time? Here’s a clever and easy idea for how to beat procrastination….

Are you looking for a sure-fire way to stop procrastinating about writing? My tip may surprise you. I suggest that you write every day — or, at least, five days each week.

‘What?’ you exclaim. “Won’t that just make me procrastinate more frequently?” Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is no. Not if you do it in the way I suggest. But before you consider that possibility, it will help to understand a little bit more about procrastination. 

Procrastination is not the result of laziness. Nor is it the result of poor self-control. “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem,” according to Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa.

People who procrastinate about writing generally feel acutely uncomfortable when they’re doing it. They have either low self-esteem, anxiety or insecurity — or perhaps all three. They tend to make negative comments to themselves like, I’m a horrible writer; Writing is so boring/tedious/dull; I’m never going to get this report/book chapter/blog post finished

But putting off the job of writing — procrastinating about it — gives them a reward. In short, they suddenly have relief from those horrible feelings. And when people get rewarded, they tend to repeat behaviours. That’s why procrastinating about writing quickly becomes a deeply engrained habit. 

Here are seven ways to better manage the emotions that typically trigger procrastination”

  1. Resolve to write for no more than five minutes per day. Many people think that to write they need to devote hours to the task. No! Make your commitment short and sweet. If it’s only five minutes, you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed, more likely to succeed and less likely to procrastinate. Many people think they will be happy if they write but the truth is more puzzling than that. In fact, happy people simply write more. So, give yourself a very small goal and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment you’ll get when you tick it off as done. Over time, as you build the writing habit, you’ll be able to increase the five-minute limit. But don’t increase it too quickly.
  2. Write first thing in the morning. And, by that, I don’t mean 6 a.m.! In fact, it doesn’t matter what time you START writing (don’t listen to writing coaches who tell you that only morning larks can write — they are wrong!) But try to do it within 30 minutes of waking up, whatever time that is for you. If you write soon after waking up, you’ll short-circuit any tedious conversations with yourself. You know what I mean — those painful negotiating sessions in which you promise to start writing at 11 am, then 1 pm, then 3  pm, then 5 pm? Just get it out of the way early in the day. And for sure schedule your writing before you open a single email or check a single news website. Emails — fascinating as they may be — will only expose you to the demands of others. (And, yes, you may have urgent emails, but surely they can wait for only five minutes.) Who needs trouble like that when you want to be working on your own writing project? And treat news sites in a similar fashion. Given the wrenching news we’re facing these days, such sites could well put you in a bad or troubled mood for the rest of the day. Get your writing done first! 
  3. Work with a timer and stop writing when it goes off. Remember that, as a procrastinator, your most important job is to prevent yourself from devoting too much time to writing (and thereby building up negative associations with it.) Instead you want to generate positive feelings like, “gee, I wish I could write a little more.” You aren’t allowed to write for any more than five minutes a day until you’ve done the five minutes for at least two weeks.
  4. Put all thoughts of quality out of your mind. Your goal in writing is not to write something that’s excellent. Your single goal is to get words on the page. You can write a crappy first draft, right? Then, do that. Don’t let yourself edit while you write. The multitasking involved only makes writing more stressful and less fun. Your job is to keep the writing as creative and pleasurable as possible (even if it’s non-fiction.) Editing is a job for another time. 
  5. Prepare for the next day’s writing. When you’ve logged your five minutes, stop writing but spend two to three additional minutes giving yourself instructions for what you want to write the NEXT day. These instructions will be invaluable to you because they’ll mean you won’t be starting with a blank page. (And if you want to make the next day’s job even easier, use Hemingway’s trick: Refuse to finish the last sentence of each day’s text. This will mean that your first job the next day will be to finish a sentence you’ve already begun. Easy-peasy!)
  6. Do your research the day before. Most writing (apart from journaling) requires some research. Set yourself up for success the next day by doing your research the day before. Given that your writing assignment is limited to five minutes, you probably won’t be producing more than 50 to 150 words so the volume of research you’ll need to do will be very small and manageable. Schedule 10 to 15 minutes for that later in the day.
  7. Record your word counts. Everyone I’ve worked with has been astonished — and thrilled — by how quickly they can accumulate words doing only a little bit of writing at a time. Create an Excel spreadsheet for yourself to track how many words you write each day and the cumulative total you achieve over time. I guarantee you will surprise yourself.

Writing is shockingly similar to three other life activities: exercise, musicianship and learning another language. If you want to do any of these activities, you’re much better off doing a little bit every day than a lot irregularly. 

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Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. If you already know you want to apply, go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours. 

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My video podcast last week addressed how to avoid being a difficult client. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

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How do you stop yourself from procrastinating about writing? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Jolie Misek, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a June 16/20 comment on my blog. (Please send me your email address, Jolie!) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by July 31/20 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!