©Stuart Mills (fotalia.com)
When I first had children, I thought that they’d slow down my writing career. And so they have. But in some respects, they’ve done wonders for it.
Having kids has made me a far more efficient writer. I used to be a big-time procrastinator. But when you only have 2 or 3 hours a day to work, you tend to get to the heart of things fast. There’s no time to waste staring at a blank page or revising the same sentence twenty times or checking the refrigerator to see if some new, interesting food has miraculously appeared. It’s Butt in Chair, fingers flying, until someone starts crying.
But as my children grew older and started school, things started to change. I had more time on my hands and guess what? I didn’t always use them wisely. Now, my youngest son just started school full-time, and so for the first time in more than five years, I have about 6 (count ‘em! 6!) consecutive hours a day that I can devote to work.
Those extra three hours a day seem like an ocean of time...and oh, I see the dangers already. So, to keep myself on-track, I’ve set out here certain anti-procrastination techniques that have been effective in the past.
Care to give these a try?
1. Make the 15-minute promise. Pick the highest priority task on your list - especially the one you most dread doing - and vow that you’ll work on it for 15 minutes. Promise yourself that you can stop after 15 minutes have passed you can stop, but until then you’ll give it your all. Most of the time, once you get started, you’ll keep going. That 15 minute bump is all that’s needed to get you over the hump of procrastination. (This is also a great trick for house-cleaning.)
2. Make a To-Do List. It may seem obvious but making a daily to-do list every single morning can help prevent procrastination. Seeing all the things you need to do written down can be a great motivator, as is the satisfaction gained from crossing each item off your list. Remember to always put the most important items on your list first - maybe even bold them or put them in a different color.
3. Eliminate Distractors. Oh, it’s hard to stay away from that wicked temptress known as the Internet. So, when I do need the internet for a particular project and want to make sure I’m concentrating, I seek out a location where the Internet simply isn’t available. Yes, I know great internet blocking software is available but getting out is a good excuse to work in a different environment. (In other words, not Starbucks.) If Wifi isn’t your biggest distractor, figure out what it is and eliminate it. Ringing phone? Put it on silent. Tempted by what’s on the tube? Put a large note on your TV screen saying something like “how does surfing the channels cost?” or place the remotes somewhere so inconvenient, you feel ridiculous seeking them out.
4. Avoid Taking On Hateful Projects. I learned this lesson the hard way. Last spring, responding to an editor’s request, I pitched an idea that I wasn’t enthusiastic about at all. The editor accepted the pitch (that figures) and gave me an open deadline. Oh how I struggled to write the piece. Not because it was difficult but because it just wasn’t that interesting to me. I must have wasted several hours dragging my feet on the research and writing – hours that could have been used on other paying assignments. While I don’t have the financial luxury to be wild about every single project that comes my way, I did vow never to inflict such pain on myself again. Well, unless the financial or career rewards are simply too good to resist.
5. Get an Anti-Procrastination Buddy. Do you have a friend or colleague to whom you can faithfully swear that you’ll get X, Y, and Z done within a particular amount of time and will hold you accountable if you don’t? Or who’s can give you an firm but inspiring pep talk when you find yourself wandering off-track? I have a buddy like this and she’s priceless.
6. Bribe yourself. It’s an old standby but it works. I have often promised myself some culinary reward (usually almond ice cream) for finishing a project or task. It’s effective, though - the way I do it - not too healthy. Maybe it’s a better idea to reward yourself with a long, hot bath...a good run...20 minutes on Wii...whatever will spur you to get the job done. You don’t even have to wait until the completion of a project. Try setting up mini-rewards for finishing difficult paragraph or sending an email that you’ve been putting off.
7. Declutter. Maintaining a messy desk or computer is an especially insidious way of promoting procrastination. There’s always the temptation to clean it up, which seems like it’s not procrastination because it feels like you’re doing something productive. And even if you don’t clean it up, there’s often something on a cluttered desk or computer to distract you. Just declutter. Take an hour to clean all that extra crap of your desk or computer once and for all, and watch your productivity increase.
What techniques do you use to stop procrastinating?