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?