Justine: Avoiding Procrastination

What am I waiting for?I had originally intended today’s post (which is late…note the procrastination topic above) to be about another copy editing challenge you can overcome (here’s my last one on apostrophes), but this article caught my eye:

Procrastination is an Emotional Problem

Wait, what? All my life, my mother has hammered into me that procrastination is a time-management problem, and this article is suggesting otherwise?

I dove in and started reading. Because procrastination isn’t just a problem for me. It’s a skill I’ve unwittingly mastered. And I blame my procrastination on everything from attention deficit disorder to my two kids (I know, unfair, right?) to just plain having too much to do.

But it turns out, based on research, that procrastination is tied to your emotions. Perhaps you want to avoid the thing you know is going to make you feel bad, but by doing so, you put off the sense of accomplishment that comes with getting it done, and then depression sets in. Or you’re anxious about the negative feelings associated with a task, and to avoid the ramp-up of your anxiety, you simply put the task off.

I won’t get into the studies done by Tim Pychyl, a researcher at Carleton University, that shows this correlation between procrastination and emotions–you can read that in the article–but I will share the way he suggests you overcome procrastination:

  • Give your “monkey mind” (you know…the one that’s always turned on and looking for something to do?) something to do
  • Don’t ignore the negative feelings you have about an upcoming task. Those emotions are going to be there whether you want it to or not, so embrace it
  • Lastly, treat your projects as actions…things to get done. The pile of work we have is really just a discrete set of actions, so do as Pychyl does and ask yourself “What’s the next action?”

He also recommends cultivating mindfulness. Mindfulness can help us remain non-judgmental when faced with a mountain of work, which allows us to tackle that mountain. In studies, those who were experienced in mindfulness meditation had the lowest incidence of procrastination, suggesting that they embraced their to-do lists and just got it done. No negative feelings attached.

My procrastination is tied to “well, if I just get this other thing done, then my proverbial desk will be cleared and I’ll be ready to write.” In other words, the “lots of little things” on my to-do list get in the way of me thinking about the other tasks (like writing a book) that I have to do. That darn monkey mind thing, but on steroids.

I think for me, using Pychyl’s strategy, I need to embrace the fact that my desk will always have something on it. Bills to pay. Calls to make. Appointments to schedule. It’s always there. Emotionally, I need to accept that my life is a constant to-do list. I need to just brush those things to the side, perhaps put them in a mental “to do” box (something with a lid, so I can’t see or focus on them), and work on them later, even if that means carving out a specific time of day when I work on getting those things done. And even though doing those things is more “fun” (as it were) then tackling a really hard-to-write scene that I have on my writing docket.

What things do you do when you’re playing the procrastination game? What is your strategy for overcoming procrastination?

9 thoughts on “Justine: Avoiding Procrastination

  1. I wouldn’t say I usually procrastinate, or at least, not about writing (housework, yes, absolutely), but with the current WIP…well, it’s like this. The story’s not going particularly well, although I think it “should,” since I’m echoing a real-life criminal case. I wrote ten chapters before I understood who the protagonist was. That was a six weeks ago, and I’m still only up to chapter thirteen, and now, looking forward, I just don’t see where I’m headed. So I’ve been spending a lot of time fixing the first ten chapters, because I do know about myself that I like to feel that I’m standing on something solid before I go forward. But I’ve been fixing for a while now. Today, I am resolved—I will get this story into chapter fourteen. I hope!

    • I hope you were able to make progress this week! I sometimes procrastinate when I’m direction-less, but sometimes sitting down with a pen and paper (rather than a computer) can help un-block me story-wise. But oftentimes, tackling those challenges is something I like to do.

  2. It’s interesting what we consider procrastination. I think I spent entirely too much time procrastinating: about an hour reading about Czech settlers in Nebraska, and how the floorplans of their houses compare to those in the Old Country.

    A teeny, tiny part of me suspects it might have been time well spent, because I like Willa Cather (who wrote about Czech immigrants in Nebraska), and I like settings. Maybe I could really write the hell out of something if I just read another Willa Cather novel . . . .

    (-: I feel that Kay wasn’t procrastinating at all, but rather re-inforcing the floor boards!

    I really don’t know what to do about it; nothing seems to really work, except the thing that I avoid: feel the pain. I totally skirt around those pain issues, because writing is generally a joy and a pleasure. But I’m so afraid it will be painful, and it often is if I force it. However, all of the best philosophers seem to chide us that pain is a part of life, and it’s unavoidable. Don’t stop in front of pain — plow right through it.

    So many times, worrying about something is more painful than the actual experience. I wish I could apply that lesson good and hard to my life!

    • I think, in general, we like to avoid yucky things. It’s human nature. We’re pleasure seekers. So I don’t see anything wrong with spending an hour reading about Czech homes in the US…particularly if you’re tied to it. I’ve run down many a rabbit hole–and I know we’ve talked about plenty of rabbit holes here on this blog. Sometimes, though, a bit of pain can lead to joy. Think of it more like childbirth than torture…maybe that will help? 😉

  3. When I was working on what I hoped would be (and was!) my final day-job consulting contract, I took joined a mastermind group in preparation for the creative life I was about to embrace. It was led by Jen Loudon, who I would call a creativity coach. She has studied procrastination and barriers to creativity, and has come up with a lot of practical steps to use when facing down this monster. Things like meditating to get ‘into the body’, aka ‘out of your own head’. Looking dead-on at the fear and reminding the lizard brain that you’re in a safe place and nothing will eat you. Self-comforting by rubbing your arms or giving yourself a hug. Breaking down the big work chunks into small and achievable steps. Celebrating every little step with something as small as a fist pump and a “woot.”

    Here’s the weird thing: a lot of those little things really worked for me. And yet, I forget to do them. All. the Damn. Time. Thanks for the reminder to get over myself and get back to work, using whatever little crutches I can along the way!

  4. I’ve discovered ONE solution to procrastination. Set a deadline. That way, you’re forced to do what you want to do anyway. If you have a specific story idea in mind and you WANT to get it done, putting a gun to your head (calendar with a read circle around a date) does help.

    I want both stories finished and revised by the end of summer. First story was finished last Saturday, per schedule . Now I have to get started on my final story. Summer flies by as it is. Watch it GO now that I need to get stuff done by the finish of labor day weekend.

    • I wish deadlines worked for me. When they belong to other people, I have no problem keeping them. But when they’re my own, I just watch them *woosh* by. It’s just me I’m letting down, after all. The fact that I have a short attention span and am the person holding down the fort, so to speak, in my house doesn’t help. This is part of the reason I don’t think traditional publication will work for me, because if an editor sets a deadline and “life” happens, I won’t make it. But I’m so glad it works for you! Who knows…maybe it’s something I need to do more as a reward system…if I meet my deadline, I can go away for a writer’s retreat. I haven’t tried that yet, but perhaps that’s what I need to get myself into writing shape!

      • If you can go on a writer’s retreat, for sure go! Wish I could! Right now, about the only thing that keeps me focused is wanting to see the story in print.

        Then again, if you have other issues, stuff like writing gets pushed to the sideline. If it would help, do you keep a journal? If you have time to keep a journal, you can at least sketch story ideas into your journal. Then you can go back at a later time. That’s what I’ve started doing. And keep a little notebook in your purse and scribble little ideas as they come to you. It’s bits and pieces, but they add up. And keep those little notebooks in a shoebox . One day, you’ll look back on them and decide, “NOW is the time!” I’ve got boxes of notebooks I’ve filled over the years. And L.M Montgomery did the same thing.

        Hope that helps. have a great weekend!

        Johanna

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