Monday, 23 March 2015

The Post-Poned Demon: Always Lurking, Never Arriving by Lev Butts

Almost a year ago, I wrote about overcoming writer's block. I had intended to write about procrastination the next month, but I kept putting it off until I didn't have time anymore, so I picked a fight with Ruth Graham that was about as successful as the one I picked with John Green. I tried to tackle procrastination again the next month, but instead I preached to the choir again about the benefits of self-publishing. Each month something else until finally, my procrastination reached epic proportions by convincing me to embark on a six month journey counting ten books.

This month, I say, "No more!" This month I am going to tackle that tiger headlong. This is it. This is the month, I discuss the evils of procrastination and give advice on tackling it.





















[add witty caption later]

Procrastination is a sneaky bastard. We all think of it as just putting off important work, but it is so much more than that. Sure, we've all procrastinated by vegging out on the sofa, binge-watching Arrested Development on Netflix. We may have even found ourselves sitting on the sofa literally staring into space instead of doing what needs to be done.

Don't believe the hype! Eating biscuits is not the answer.
This, the most obvious form of procrastination, is merely the first step in a highly sophisticated game of cat-and-mouse procrastination plays with you. The next step is far more subtle: You do something that needs to be done, but not the thing that needs to be done that you set out to do. You clean the kitchen, cut grass, wash clothes, or reorganize your DVDs. All things you've been putting off for a while, but suddenly now seem far more important than writing. 


When you finally sit down to write something, be careful! Procrastination has other plans there, too. Even assuming you can avoid the delectable treasures and hours of promise held by the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, procrastination will very soon have you writing something completely unrelated to what you set out to write. 

Have a report due? Awesome! Draft that play instead.

Need to finish that poem? Terrific! Work on your report.

Time to hack away at your novel? Fantabulous! Why not write your monthly blog post for Authors Electric on procrastination instead?

How's that blog post coming? You know what you need? An awesome visual. Quick, Grasshopper! To the interwebs!

Pictured: The result of a fifteen minute search.
Not pictured: all the witty bon mots and piercing
insights I could've written.
So what can you do to stop it? The easy answer is the hardest solution, I'm afraid. Shut up and do what you're supposed to. Write the piece you set out to write. This advice, though, while certainly good, is also woefully impractical.

There is an art ot combatting procrastination, and that art lies in fighting it with its own tactics. Here are a few suggestions for doing just that:

1. Give In (But Just a Little)



Don't tell yourself you can't do something your mind tells you that you clearly want to. Do it, but on your terms. Work on your primary task for a set amount of time; then take a break and give yourself ten minutes or so to do whatever the hell you want to. Check Facebook. Pin stuff to Pinterest. Snap some chats, whatever. Just don't let it take up your whole day. Make a time limit and stick to it. 

If you need a little help making sure you don't take too much time on distracting webpages, perhaps you should give Stayfocusd a try. This app for Google Chrome allows you to set a timer on your distracting webpages. Once the allotted time is up, these sites are blocked for the rest of the day. It is fairly customizable, and unless you've chosen the "nuclear option" (this option is advised for only the worst procrastinators as they cannot be undone short of disabling the entire app) your times can be reset as needed. You can download it here.

2. Get the Hell Out


Boredom is procrastination's greatest tool. We get bored by our surroundings and decide to change them by doing other things. Next thing you know, you have spent the last three hours checking Facebook, cyber-stalking your significant other/crush/ex, and/or looking at more grumpy cat pictures than should be humanly possible.


Instead of doing something else when this happens, try finding a new setting. Take your laptop and go outside. Go to a coffee shop. Or simply go to another room. Change your setting, and you may find that that is enough to get you back on track.

Admittedly, this used to be considerably harder to do
given the size of personal computers.
3. Give It Two Minutes

There are all kinds of two-minute rules out there. I try to attribute everything I find, but seriously, the two-minute rule thing? There's more folks claiming credit for this little gem than there are Brians at a Python crucifixion.

I wrote the two-minute rule, and so did my wife.
Boiled down to its basic premise, David Allen's version of the two minute rule states that if a thing can be done in two minutes or less, do it immediately. Waiting to do it, remembering to do it, and actually doing it will often take at least five minutes (and usually significantly more). 

This sounds all well and good, but as I'm sure you're aware, a good writing session will take significantly more than two minutes. Well, James Clear expands on this by suggesting you break every task down to two-minute sections.  According to him, inertia makes it far more likely that you'll keep doing something once you start since it is easier to continue an action than to stop. Write a single sentence; chances are, you won't stop there. You'll write more.

Hopefully, these three simple suggestions will help you win the battle against procrastination. If not, I'm sure Google will be more than happy to let you spend untold hours researching better ways to combat procrastination; conversely, you might consider asking your Facebook friends for suggestions, or looking up solutions on Pinterest. 

I'm sure we will eventually get to the writing part.


11 comments:

Pauline Chandler said...

Ha ha! Love this post! Everything in is is true! My best strategy in the fight against the big bad P is that two-minute rule. If I tell myself I'll just write a sentence or two, then once I've started, a whole hour or so can pass, as I get involved in the story. It's a clever trick! Thanks, Lev.

Chris Longmuir said...

The main thing I kept wondering as I procrastinated reading this rather than getting with what I should be doing was - who wrote this? Until I came to the end and saw your name Lev. Great post, and so true. Now what can I do next to avoid writing my epic novel?

Susan Price said...

Yes Lev - here's more procrastination fodder - put your name in the blog title, please.

Though I know Chris recognised your style as well as I did.

Great post - not a word but the sweet truth itself.

My own favourite procrastination-blockers are setting a timer for a time that feels comfortable on that day, and then writing until the bell rings.

And if that fails, take a laptop or notepad to the pub. I've never known that to fail. Thank god for English pubs. Though the last time I was there, the landlady came over and said, 'You're supposed to relax in here, not work!' So I may have trouble there the next time I go.

Jan Needle said...

very interesting, lev. i'll finish it tomorrow...

Dennis Hamley said...

Great post, Reb. Jan, I already have finished it, so I've set my standard and it's going to be a good day.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to read this later.

Lydia Bennet said...

Great post Lev, and as always great use of pix and captions! One of the attractions of procrastination is that it's very hard to fail at it - we are all olympic champions, and no wonder, with all the training we do - whereas writing may mean realising uncomfortable truths about our project, talents, or luck.

Reb MacRath said...

Well done, Lev. And I'll put off no longer telling you how much I enjoyed it.

Wendy Jones said...

Loved this post Lev. I am a great procrastinator and can spend many Hapoy hours avoiding the real task, my house is usually sprawling by the time I sit down to write

Jan Needle said...

finished it now, lev. great stuff. i've always been pro crastinating, tho...

Jan Needle said...

Which reminds me, an old teacher used the proverb 'procrastination is the thief of time' to illustrate the differences between English and German. According to him their version is 'Morgen, Morgen nur nicht Heute sagen alle faulen Leute." Now that IS procrastination!