Want to start writing? Feeling stuck? I self-published my first book How To Find Your Vital Vocation in June of last year. The book focuses on helping readers to identify and then obtain (or create) the work of their dreams.
Of course, one of the biggest obstacles we face in achieving any goal – whether it’s finding a dream job, or writing a book – is procrastination. In fact, I devote a whole chapter in the book to overcoming internal obstacles like procrastination (as well as stress, demotivation, and erroneous assumptions). If you want to start writing but find you’re not making progress, it may be that you need to deal with procrastination first.
Here’s an edited extract from that chapter, which includes some specific procrastination-busting tips for writers.
Great Strategies for Tackling Procrastination:
1. Don’t Go Cold Turkey.
Don’t fall into the trap of telling yourself you’ll never procrastinate again. You will. This is because there is an upside to procrastination. It can carve out some much-needed downtime for you, especially when you haven’t done so for yourself.
You may find yourself procrastinating even more if you’ve decided to start writing – because you’ve just added extra pressure and effectively awakened your own inner resistance. Minimize the likelihood of this happening by scheduling your downtime, rather than letting it schedule you. Which leads to…
2. Create a Goofing-off Timetable.
This one is all about planning your avoidance patterns into your daily life. The simplest way is to block out some relaxation time in your diary – a bit like free periods in school – and mark these out as being distinct from the times when you’re working on a specific personal or work-related project (like writing). Then make sure when the free periods come round, you actually do goof off and do the fun stuff that you love doing!
This works because structured downtime is far more energising than accidental downtime that comes laden with guilt and frustration. Think of how differently you feel after you’ve consciously decided to put your feet up to watch a great show, compared to how you feel after mindlessly slumping in front of the TV for hours, watching nothing in particular.
3. The “First Action” Approach.
This technique allows you to fool the primitive part of your mind into thinking you aren’t actually going to do the task at all – just some tiny part of it – and so the resistance to the task gets switched off.
If you want to start writing a chapter of your book, for example, you might be daunted about the task of “writing a chapter”. However, you might find the idea of “opening a Word document and typing the chapter title” entirely achievable. So that’s what you do; you say to yourself, “I’m not going to write the chapter just now. I’m just going to open a Word document and type the chapter title.” That’s it. You’ve taken the first action, and you might find that that first action is enough to propel you into further action. When I was at university, many an essay I was fretting about got written this way.
4. Leave Yourself Wanting More.
Many people find it hard to pick a task up again after they’ve had a break from it. This is because we have a tendency to stop working at a natural breaking-off point. Consequently, starting again feels like starting something new. Breaking off mid-task (rather than at a natural break point) creates a sense of “incompleteness” that we’ll want to resolve. You can apply this principle to lots of things: mowing the lawn (take a break after mowing half the lawn), reading a book (stop reading in the middle of a chapter), or writing a book (stop writing mid-sentence).
Leave yourself wanting more so that the sense of completion only really comes when you have completed the entire task. Some people may not like this approach because it delays the gratification of finishing discrete parts of the work. Remember, however, this is about outsmarting procrastination, and believe me – it works.
What procrastination-busting techniques have you discovered to help you get that book written?