Conquering Procrastination 101

For all intents and purposes, summer is over, and we return to our regularly scheduled writing activities.  In order to fulfill those goals (and, OK, all the goals I had up and running over the summer), I’ve needed to develop some pretty rigorous tools to cope with my stellar tendencies to procrastinate.  (You know, the desire to play one more round of the Helicopter Game before settling in to work.  Or the desire to check email one last time.  Or to Google reviews on that great movie I saw last night.  Or, or, or…)  So, here’s how I do it:

1.  Define the project.  I need to know, in advance of starting work for the day, what my goal-point is.  Today is a writing day?  Great, how many words do I need to get done?  Today is an editing day?  Wonderful, how many chapters must I get through?  Today is a research and plot day?   Fantastic, what, exactly, do I need answers for by the end of the day.  I set this up at the very end of the day before, so that I can think about the project during those precious inspirational shower- and walking-moments of the next morning.

2.  Close out of email.  Yeah, I know that the committee could be contacting me, to award me the Nobel Prize for Genre Writing.  But seriously?  It can wait for an hour.  And the chance that the email chime is summoning me to something  less pressing than my writing goal-point is much higher.  (Note:  I don’t sign out of Firefox, because too much of my writing and editing demands a quick check on name brands or historical facts or whatever…)

3.   Set interim goals and rewards.  Yeah, my stomach really thinks that those nectarines are *just* the thing to let me concentrate on the next 2000 words.  But it won’t know for sure until I finish 500, or the next page, or the next chapter, or whatever.  (Note:  Bio breaks are the exception.  There’s nothing less likely to lead to writing success than shifting awkwardly on one’s chair for minutes on end.)

4.  Schedule lunches, errands, and other activities, but be flexible with the schedule.  I know that I’m going to the grocery store today.  And I know that I’m supposed to go around 3:00 this afternoon, after the lunch crowd, before the after-work hordes.  But I also know that if I reach a goal-point earlier than 3:00, I might as well go, shop, then come home and launch my efforts toward the day’s next goal-point.  I’ll lose more time if I interrupt myself because the clock says it’s time to go to the store, then come back and pick up the second goal-point mid-thread.

5.  Accept certain losses.  It’s no secret – there are going to be days when I just can’t make time ends meet.  I’m not going to get to the goal-point.  I just can’t stow away the family- or friendship-drama in email.  I get caught in traffic, coming back from the store.  I know that the fate of human civilization rests on my ability to get that bleeping helicopter past the first 1000 miles.  If I do abandon all attempts at writing for a morning or an afternoon or an entire day, then I try my best to take care of other non-writing work during that lost time, clearing the decks for true progress when I next sit down to write.

Okay – those aren’t perfect tips, but they’re the ones that have worked for me.  Mostly, they’re variations on skills that I developed in the office place, through years of day-job time-juggling.  What’s worked best for you?

Mindy, off to get some editing done, now that her blogging time has been spent…

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  1. 1. Karen Wester Newton

    Well, I can tell how you made it through law school AND library school. Organization is your strong suit.

    For me, the best thing was to analyze the obstacles—what were the things that were getting in the way of writing? TV watching? Pick one show a week and skip the rest. Doing errands on the weekends? Figure which ones could be done on my lunch hour and which ones I could get my husband to do. Housework? OK, you’ve seen my house so you know that was never even in the running! But there are cleaning services for when the dust bunnies mutate to industrial strength.

    I suppose we could both add marry a supportive spouse to the list of tips?

  2. 2. Steph Burgis

    Thanks for this! I’ve bookmarked it for myself as a good reminder on bad writing days.

  3. 3. S.C. Butler

    You mean Stockholm hasn’t called you either?

    Great minds procrastinate alike.

  4. 4. Ann Wilkes

    Mindy,
    What’s REALLY funny is that we both blogged about this on the same day. See my “Where’s the procrastinators anonymous meeting?” target = “blank” blog entry for today on LJ. And here I am reading blogs when I really should put more words on that story. But another “goal-point” (which I make a list of in my calendar of my cell phone–my version of a dayrunner), was to blog. I hit the LJ blog earlier and still need to hit the blogger one tonight.

    So, I’m a list maker. Of course, there’s a function on my calendar that lets me move the task to a different day. I’m ashamed to say that some things get moved to the next day for two weeks. Now I’m in crunch time with my volunteer project, while I have writing deadlines looming large. No more foolin’ around playing spider solitaire or free cell. :)

    I liked what you said about clearing the decks. I do that too when I see the day’s been shot anyway. Of course, the clearing the decks can take on a life of its own…

  5. 5. David Keck

    I remember once realizing that I had spent an ironic hour or two researching procrastination on the Internet once upon a time.

    (And right now I’m commenting upon a blog post about procrastination, now that I think of it).

    (Oh. And the comment has me wondering whether Ganges.com has any useful books on the subject).

    ((I am supposed to be writing a scene right now)).

    (((I am going to write it after lunch))).

    ((((Damnit. Damnit. Damnit.))))

    ~Dave

  6. 6. Mindy Klasky

    Karen – I agree that “classify and conquer” is one of the best strategies. Aside, of course, from “assign to spouse and conquer” :-)

    Steph – Yep, I have a whole set of “bad writing day” links :-)

    Sam – You know, it would be the kiss of death to our sales if Stockholm really did call. Yeah. That’s what I tell myself :-) Actually, John Steinbeck’s first novel, CUP OF GOLD, was a fantasy novel about pirates. Somehow, the Nobel committee managed to overlook that!

    Ann – In the past, I actually needed to delete some games from my computer because I didn’t have the self-restraint to stay away from them. I won’t even mention deleting Tetris because of my need to wear wrist braces for tendonitis…

    Dave – My work here is done! BWAHAHAHAHA!

  7. 7. Tom Gallier

    I was going to respond on that first day you posted this, but I kept putting it off. I think Procrastination is myth, like sex addiction. I have more to say, but the League of Reluntant Adults has a new post I have read first…later.

  8. 8. Mindy Klasky

    Ah… A man after my own heart. Good luck battling that procrastination, Tom :-)

Author Information

Mindy Klasky

Mindy Klasky is the author of eleven novels, including WHEN GOOD WISHES GO BAD and HOW NOT TO MAKE A WISH in the As You Wish Series. She also wrote GIRL'S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT, SORCERY AND THE SINGLE GIRL, and MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL, about a librarian who finds out she's a witch. Mindy also wrote the award-winning, best-selling Glasswrights series and the stand-alone fantasy novel, SEASON OF SACRIFICE. Visit site.

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