Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Procrastination is the bane of writers, stealing time while giving nothing of substance in return. The combination of working in a home environment and often having flexible working goals leaves writers particularly vulnerable to procrastination, especially early in a career. When things get difficult it’s easy to remember a little job that needs doing, or an article you meant to read, but indulging in this sort of writing avoidance behavior can literally add years to the writing process. If you can just manage to stop procrastinating, you’ll be amazed at how productive you can actually be.
Of course we all know it’s wrong, so why is procrastination one of the most common concerns for authors and what’s the best way to combat this temptation?
In this article, I’ll be exploring the most helpful models to help you stop procrastinating, and providing the pros and cons for each. I’ll then offer one incredibly simple tip that most writers miss, but which can dramatically shrink the time you spend procrastinating.
So which procrastination avoidance model should we look at first? Well, in the spirit of many other articles on this subject, we’ll look at the much vaunted Absolutist.
Absolutists rely on cold, hard willpower to keep them on track. The rule is ‘no procrastination’, and they aim to stick to it without exception.
There’s a lot to admire about Absolutists, beginning with just how hard it is to be one. The urge to procrastinate comes from within, and anyone who can avoid being distracted by their own brain deserves recognition.
Absolutists are commonly held up as the ideal for authors, but ‘just say no’ doesn’t work for everyone. Nonetheless, it can be an effective behavior model, and one that all writers should certainly consider.
+ Maximum output
- If you can successfully eliminate procrastination from your day then you have the maximum amount of time to create and produce.
+ Rules is rules
- Absolute rules work for a lot of people, and complete avoidance of procrastination can be easier to adhere to than a more forgiving, and more subjective model of behavior.
– If it fails, it’s bad
- When Absolutists procrastinate they procrastinate hard. ‘I will not procrastinate’ is an absolute rule, so once it’s broken there’s nothing left to limit the actual amount of time wasted. It’s easy for Absolutists to lose an entire day if they slip.
– Mood dependent
- Will power varies according to many factors, so if it’s your chief approach then there will likely be days where it simply won’t work for you.
Compartmentalists recognize that there’s going to be some procrastination in their day. Rather than digging their heels in they choose to allow set times for procrastination, with the intention of keeping it firmly penned inside those times.
Though less fanatical than Absolutists, Compartmentalists still require a lot of will power. In fact, it can be more difficult to stop procrastinating than to avoid doing so in the first place.
+ Allows for recovery
- With their time broken into segments, Compartmentalists can more easily recover if they succumb to procrastination. Even if they run over their intended goal they can subtract a later period set aside for procrastination, or just use the beginning of new time slots as cues to stop procrastination behavior.
+ Can be tailored to mood
- If you know you’re going to want more breaks from writing you can adjust your schedule to allow for that, either increasing procrastination breaks or breaking them up and scattering them through the working day.
– Open to abuse
- As mentioned above, Compartmentalism requires willpower. Breaking up your working time into segments may just give you the ability to dedicate ‘just one more’ block of time to your chosen distraction until you find the whole day is gone.
– Can guarantee procrastination
- Having a break scheduled can make it seem mandatory, even if you’re on a roll or aren’t feeling the need to procrastinate. It can also make procrastination feel like part of the process rather than a break from work, which is fine until you start adding ‘bad’ procrastination on top of your ‘good’ scheduled breaks.
The Voluntary Prisoner
The number of writers who opt to be Voluntary Prisoners has increased as technology has become more prevalent. Originally this type of writer would physically alter their workspace to avoid distracting stimuli, or even place the burden of responsibility on a third party who would have to make sure they kept working.
Computers being what they are this practice has spread to digital life. There are many tools to block distracting sites, and word processors designed to reduce any functions except the ability to write.
While Voluntary Prisoners are often maligned there’s nothing inherently wrong with this practice. If you know you’ll only work if there’s no other choice, then eliminating the other choices is a proactive and sensible thing to do.
+ Procrastination is genuinely harder
- Absolutists constantly have the tools for procrastination in front of them and have to choose not to use them. Voluntary Prisoners make it hard to access these tools, not just making it more difficult to procrastinate but also creating more prompts to turn back and continue working.
+ Promotes professional mind-set
- Blocking your favorite websites and opening a bare but functional word processor is a great way of telling your brain that it’s time to write. The minor ceremony involved in the writing process helps you to get into a productive state of mind, and makes the time you have dedicated to writing feel more official.
– Hard isn’t impossible
- No anti-procrastination tool comes without an off switch. The better ones make it quite difficult to cancel them, but if you’re determined then you’ll still be able to visit your favorite sites. Even if you make it all but impossible to use your computer to procrastinate during writing time, there are always going to be stimuli somewhere.
– Can discourage willpower
- Reassurance of the inability to procrastinate can make writers less prepared to resist those distracting stimuli which slip through. An Absolutist is on constant guard against distraction, but a Voluntary Prisoner who believes they are ‘safe’ may often be halfway through a good dust before they realize what’s happening.
The Golden Tip To Stop Procrastinating
So, having looked at the different models that writers adopt to stop procrastinating, it’s time for the one obvious tip that so many ignore: choose the model that will work today.
We all have preferences, but no writer is simple enough that one approach will work 100% of the time. Absolutism might work for you most of the time, but there will be days where you feel restless. Whether the appropriate response is to cut yourself some Compartmentalist leeway or utilize the ceremony of the Voluntary Prisoner depends entirely on you, but don’t be afraid to mix it up.
As with all our advice, this works best if you really engage with finding what works. Try each approach over multiple days and see how each makes you feel, and which leaves you with the most writing to show for your efforts. Keep a written record, and very quickly you’ll be able to mix and match to get the best out of yourself on any given day.
Whichever model you’re using, the three following rules will help you get the most out of them:
1. Set goals
Whether you’re shooting for a target or doing it in steps, setting a goal gives you something concrete to aim for. It’s easy to get distracted if your goal is ‘write something’, but if you have a word count in mind then you always know how close, or far, you are to reaching your goal.
2. Be honest
‘This doesn’t count as procrastination because it needed doing’.
To understand what works for you, you need an accurate idea of how your work is progressing. Giving yourself an easy time will only lessen the benefits down the line.
3. Recognize accomplishments
Many writers have a habit of overlooking accomplishments which would thrill a layperson. Aiming for a word count is great during the day, but if you don’t make it take a moment to acknowledge what you did get done (as well as being honest about why). Remember that putting words on paper is valuable, whether or not you end up using any of them in your final draft.
At the end of the day, different methods work for different people, but the models above show tried and tested combinations that can almost certainly add something to your procrastination avoidance. If you have a model that isn’t mentioned above, or just a tip you think would help other writers, please don’t hesitate to say so in the comments.How To Fix Your Procrastination Problem And Stop Procrastinating TodayClick To Tweet
For more on writing avoidance behavior, and how to work through it, check out Frances Reid Rowland’s fantastic article Writing Avoidance Behavior: Here’s how to overcome it.