When it’s time to write—whether you’re journaling or working on the next great American novel—do you procrastinate? Do you suddenly feel a burning need to fold laundry or phone that cousin you’ve been meaning to call?
I confess, I’ve been procrastinating. It’s been two weeks since my last post, but instead of creating great new content for WritingThroughLife, I have done just about everything else on my lengthy to-do list. I wrote several articles for other blogs (not mine), worked on my memoir, scanned documents for my files, and checked my email 50 times, never failing to respond promptly to clients and students. And yes, I watered the garden and folded laundry. I made sure I kept my commitments to everyone else, but whenever I’d sit down to write this post, I’d become suddenly fidgety and easily distracted by the slightest noise (or excuse). Sound familiar?
What is procrastination, why do we do it, and how do we deal with it?
Wickipedia describes procrastination as “the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of lower priority, or doing something from which one derives enjoyment, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time.” I’m not sure I agree with that definition. It implies that we put off doing things because, though they may be high-priority, we don’t enjoy them. But sometimes, we put off doing things we want to do, things that are important to us and we enjoy. And we don’t always procrastinate by accomplishing lower priority tasks. My current situation illustrates this point.
In her Psychology Today article, “Problem with Procrastination? Try this: Do Nothing,” Gretchen Rubin states that “working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.” To solve the problem of substituting one form of work for another, make the only alternative doing nothing. This rule, she says, was inspired by Raymond Chandler. “Chandler set aside at least four hours each day for writing; he didn’t force himself to write, but he didn’t let himself do anything else. He wouldn’t let himself read, write letters, write checks—nothing. He summed up: ‘Two very simple rules, a. you don’t have to write. b. you can’t do anything else. The rest comes of itself.'”
I don’t know about you, but the thought of doing nothing terrifies me. (Even lying on the lawn staring at the clouds qualifies as something.) And yet, in order to write this post, that is exactly what I did: I sat down at my desk and said, “It’s this or nothing.” And, though at first I still felt fidgety and easily distracted, I wrote. I didn’t write on my intended topic—Growing Up and Growing Old—which will have to wait for another day, because it occurred to me that you, also, may need some help dealing with procrastination.
So here it is:
- Set a specific time to write. Then, sit at your desk or wherever you’ve designated to write, and don’t do anything else. Don’t read, don’t check your email, don’t log on to FaceBook. Seriously.
- Write through your procrastination by writing about it. The saying, “The only way out is through,” is true. You can only move on by moving through an issue as deeply and fully as possible. As I have done here, write about the procrastination itself. Start by completing the following sentence: “I’m procrastinating because …” Explain your answer.
- If you don’t want to write on the subject of procrastination (perhaps it’s a tired topic for you), set your timer for 10 minutes and do absolutely nothing except stay awake. When the timer goes off, write about the experience.
- Writing is a form of exploration. By writing about barriers such as procrastination, you will explore and uncover universal human themes. Write about how these these themes apply to other aspects of your life, to others’ lives, and what you can learn by digging deeper.
- Get your creative juices flowing by writing a fairy tale about a character who procrastinates.
Procrastination is a normal human trait. We all experience it at times. Next time you’re feeling that fidgety urge to do something other than write, try one or more of these ways to move on.
Add to the discussion. What works for you? Do you have ideas to offer others? Please leave a comment …