Elizabeth: I’ll Get Right On That

As I have said before, if procrastination was an Olympic sport, I’d be the reigning gold medalist.  Without a set deadline to aim for I’m likely to find a thousand and one things to do other than what I should be working on.   Case in point would be the eleven books I’ve read in the last three weeks, rather than finishing revisions on my Regency WIP that I was on my To Do list (I blame Georgette Heyer and Jenny Crusie for that).  The revision goal was something I had set myself so, other than being disappointed at not completing the task, there was no real consequence to it like there would have been had I missed a deliverable at the Day Job.

Way back in the McDaniel writing program days, I had my biggest word counts and most successful story development progress when there was a looming deadline.  That’s nothing new for me, of course.  Even further back, when I was doing software coding, I tended to do my best work when a deadline was closing in; often the night before something was due.  Back then, reading was my primary procrastination device.  “Let me just finish this chapter,” was my mantra.

These days, with so many things clamoring for attention – the internet, the news, the Day Job, the TBR pile – it can be a real challenge not to get distracted and wind up putting off or ignoring  the things I really want to be focusing on.

 “I’m not procrastinating; I’m prioritizing the most appealing tasks first.” ~ Me

That’s why I had high hopes when I came across this story in my New York Times news feed today:  This is How You Get Stuff Done.   The article, part of a Smarter Living series, talks about how to train ourselves to actually crave better habits (like taking care of a task, rather than finding 100 other things to do instead).

Habits basically have three parts. There is the cue, the routine, and then the reward.  In order to change a habit, you need to change (rewire) that cycle.  A good example of this is one of my co-workers.  He was a smoker, and his habit was that he’d have a cup of coffee in the morning (the cue), then smoke a cigarette (the routine), and then get that nicotine rush (the reward).  Part of his effort to stop smoking was to break that habit.  By removing the cup of coffee, he was able to establish a different early morning routine that did not include a cigarette.

For me, the habit I really want to break is the get home / dinner / internet cycle.  It’s what has consistently been eroding my writing time and it’s a habit that really has no actual reward, unless it is that feeling of knowing (kind of) what is going on in the world.  Initially I tried setting timer on my phone for a set amount of internet time, but that didn’t quite work; I just kept hitting snooze, just like I do for my early morning wake-up alarm.   Not turning on the computer would break the habit, but since I write on my computer, that would be problematic.

This week I’m trying something a little different.  Instead of focusing on the home/ dinner/internet cycle, I’ve moved a quick peruse of the internet to my “last thing I do before leaving work” habit.  Since at that time I’m eager to pack up and get to the gym for my workout, I am much less likely to wind up losing track of time surfing away since, if I do, I’ll miss my workout.  Then, when I get home, it’s the dinner / “Jeopardy” habit (also something that is time constrained).  So far (2 whole days), this has meant less surfing and more writing, so I’m hopeful I’m on to something.  I think turning on the computer after dinner and writing a scene is definitely preferable to dinner / computer / lose an appalling amount of time on the internet.

Breaking old, unproductive habits is just part of the process to Get Stuff Done.  Equally important, as we’ve talked about before, is to set small, reasonable, achievable goals (“draft a scene” vs. “write a book”); reach out to peers for support (“hello monthly accountability posts”); and minimize distractions.   That last one is always the most challenging for me, but I’ll do what I can . . . . just as soon as I finish one more chapter.

So, what kind of habits have you established to help you make progress on your writing goals?  Or, if you’re a procrastination expert like me, what habits would you like to break/establish?

7 thoughts on “Elizabeth: I’ll Get Right On That

  1. I have procrastination skills galore—read just one more chapter (in my current book), read one more article (on the internet), watch one more episode (in my binge TV watching). The best thing about retirement is that I can command my own time, so now I get up, make coffee, and write first thing. Always. I have an exercise class two days a week, so I come home immediately after, fire up the computer, and write even before I take a shower. Every day I go for two to four hours, however well the WIP is working for me, and then I feel free to move on to other things. It’s great for getting words on the page or changes made.

    I remember the days when I commuted to a day job. Back then, I wrote at night, because I swam in the morning before work. So I’d come home, make dinner, sit down at the computer. It wasn’t hard for the first year, but after the initial glow of discovering I wanted and could write a book, I lost a lot of momentum. Sometimes you just have to watch a little TV!

    What I’d like to do now is commit to four hours a day on the writing life, even if the actual writing or revising isn’t going well. I’d like to be willing to put the rest of the time up to four hours into marketing, Facebook, a mailing list, and so on. There’s a lot of things to do around publishing that I don’t particularly enjoy and put off until they are screaming at me in the rear view mirror. I’m not sure what I can do to develop a habit and get to that place of willingness or at least resignation. Still cogitating.

    • Kay, sounds like you have some strong habits in place. That’s great that you’re making your writing a priority and that retirement has given you a good command of your time. I’m still stuck in the day job / write at night loop, and that isn’t likely to change any time soon. I know just what you mean about the “initial glow” – I’m afraid mine is getting rather dim. I’m hoping the upcoming conference and one-on-one time with the other Eight Ladies will help me brighten that back up.

      Regarding the publishing things that you don’t particularly enjoy, are they things that you need to do yourself or things that could be delegated so that you could focus on the things you really want to commit to doing?

      • Yeah, I think I could delegate some. Maybe during RWA I can think through how much of anything I feel I should do, and how much I could delegate. I’d like to delegate it all, but …

  2. I too have the day job blues. I’m reading a book titled, The Writer’s Productivity Crash Course, by Nicholas Erik. Out of all the inspirational books I try to find the nuggets out of, this book has lit me up. He says how habits are made as you described them. Wisdom words there, but he has taken the pressure off and made them easy to do, for me. I’m now sharing it with my granddaughter for a homework habit. Her reward, a 1/2 hour phone time for blocks of work done. My reward, a movie or series segment.

    • Jan – I’ll have to look that book up; sounds promising. I like the idea of taking the pressure off of habits, not to mention the reward concept. Sometimes the thought of a treat awaiting me at the completion of a task is the only thing that keeps me on track.

  3. (-: I’ll wrestle you for the procrastination title. But not today — maybe tomorrow.

    Right now, a major part of the problem is an energy crisis. Since I came home from America last summer (I think), I just haven’t been able to get anything done. My writing is neglected except for short, quick bursts of activity, my house is gathering clutter, and even my reading has fallen way off. Sure, the ukulele is taking up some of the slack, but not all of it.

    The habit I’m trying to break is watching YouTube late into the night instead of going to bed. This month, I’ve been trying to set my morning alarm at 9:30, then not touching the phone except for maybe a bedtime meditation or if I get a notification from family. Qualitatively, it’s going well — I’m getting much better at getting to bed almost on time. However, I am consistently failing on the details. I turn off the phone at 9:31, for example. Not a big deal, but I wonder if I’m being pass/agg with myself.

    We’re going into a three-day holiday this weekend, so maybe I’ll have a chance to catch up on my sleep and also clean up the house. I really should write from 8 to 10 each morning. Or sit in front of the computer with the internet off from 8 to 8:30.

    The really cool thing about a procrastination habit is that if I get started wrting and it’s going well, I’ll gladly do it and procrastinate on housework, making dinner or any number of things.

    It’s funny to look at the things I don’t procrastinate as badly on. I rarely put off watching YouTube, for example. If I do, I don’t think of it as procrastination (-:. I wish I could reorganize the categories in my brain.

    • Ha. Maybe we can share the title.

      Your energy crisis sounds very familiar; I’ve been feeling that way for several months now. I will admit though, that if there is something I *really* want to do, I tend to find the energy. Maybe I have too many things in my “should do” category and not enough in my “want to do.”

      Must cogitate on that.

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