Procrastination is like leaving the headlights on in a parked car: it’s a slow drain on your mental battery. The longer the lights are on, the harder it is to get the engine started. By continually avoiding doing something you know you need to do, procrastination sucks the energy out of you.
This is doubly true for a task like writing. The longer you procrastinate writing a piece, the harder it becomes to start. However, even if you put off a task for weeks or months, it’s never too late to start. Starting isn’t easy, but it’s doable. The best part: once you start, you’ll usually find the difficulty you imagined is usually worse than the actual work involved.
Procrastination is usually a symptom of some other problem: poor preparation, perfectionism, a fear of failure or rejection, or just a simple lack of motivation and interest.
The reason you left your headlights on isn’t important. Sometimes you’ll just have to deal with a dead battery. But since we need to get that car running as soon as possible, let’s look at some ways to jumpstart that dead car. Consider each of these techniques a different set of jumper cables.
• Organize Your Ideas – Staring at a blank screen with no support materials or written notes is like building a house without a blueprint: the end result will be a mess and it could kill someone. Instead of starting from zero, make a mind map, choose the best ideas, and organize them into an outline. Do all this before you begin drafting.
• Freewrite – Forget about logical flow for a minute. People often procrastinate when they’re unclear about some aspect of their task. When you freewrite, you have a chance to address those missing details and develop a deeper understanding of the piece you want to create.
• Set a deadline – Deadlines add a sense of urgency to your writing task, giving you a clear and compelling reason to finish a piece. Without a deadline, it’s easy to ignore a piece, especially when you’re writing only for yourself.
• Set mini-goals – Writing a 5,000 word piece, one that’ll probably require several hours of work, is a big job. Break this job up. Work in blocks of 500 words or thirty minutes.
• Eliminate distractions – Work in a quiet space. Turn off your cell phone and, if possible, your internet connection. Escape from people who demand your attention. Each distraction pulls your focus away from the task at hand.
• Force it – People mythologize the creation process. They expect some magical power to enter them and imbue them with an unstoppable pen. In reality, the most creative people force themselves to write every day, whether they feel inspired or not. The perfect time is now. Not tomorrow, not next week. Today.
• Don’t worry about getting it right…just get it down – First drafts usually suck. That’s why second, third, and eighth drafts exist. Aim for excellent results, but don’t set the bar too high at first. Having a sloppy but finished first draft is far better than having no draft at all.
Let’s face it: we all procrastinate, especially when it comes to writing. A little procrastination is normal, but by using some of these steps, we can redirect the high beams of our mental energies onto our own work. Start your engines.
Seth M. Baker is a freelance writer, musician, and world traveler currently based in Appalachia. He writes about creativity-related topics at Happenchance.net
14 Ways To Procrastinate Productively