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Overcome Procrastination With These Easy Strategies

overcome-procrastination

If you’re a writer, you’re probably familiar with procrastination.

It descends like a haze.

It takes you over before you know it.

And there you are, checking email for the millionth time rather than focusing on the task at hand.

Judging yourself or wishing it wouldn’t happen are unlikely to help you. But turning to take a look at procrastination, to understand what it is and how it catches you—that’s empowering and leads to solutions that will get you back on track.

Don’t think you’re going to eliminate procrastination forever. Instead, it’s about learning how to relate to it when it happens.

When you realize you’re procrastinating, see it as an opportunity.

Recognize it. Name it.

Then pull out your toolbox to find the right skill that will enliven you to write once again.

So let’s come out of the fog and put on our explorer hats, the ones with the spotlight on the forehead. Let’s see what we’re actually dealing with.

What is Procrastination?

To say you’re procrastinating means that you’re living smack in the middle of the land of “should.” And when has a “should” ever served anyone? In essence, you’re saying, “I’m doing this right now, when I should be doing that.” You’re putting yourself down and rejecting this moment as not good enough.

When you think you should be doing something different than what you are doing, two sides within you have taken up arms. You’re battling with yourself, which only depletes you and shuts you down.

Can you learn to be kinder toward yourself?

Take a breath, and see the moment for what it is.

It’s not that you shouldn’t be procrastinating. Here’s the truth: your attention has wandered. It’s okay.

Now, get practical. What can you do to return to being focused, efficient, and creative?

The Way Through Procrastination

What we call procrastination is all about avoiding. With good intention and high hopes, you begin working on a project. But before you know it, you’re busily researching some fascinating tidbit or wondering what you’re going to have for lunch.

How did that happen?

You can discover the answer by rewinding and playing the scene back in slow motion. What you would notice is that you procrastinate when your project:

  • Seems boring or unexciting,
  • Triggers fears—of rejection, of not being capable, of not being perfect, or
  • Activates a pattern of self-critical and doubting thoughts—I can’t, I’m no good, no one’s going to care.

See how becoming aware empowers you?

Once you learn how to work with the thoughts and feelings that fuel procrastination, they stop sabotaging you.

Then you’re free to make a conscious about how you want to proceed.

Familiarize yourself with each of these reactions and practice the tools that address them. Procrastination will no longer be your nemesis. Instead, it’ll be your tap on the shoulder, the lovely, whispering voice that brings you back to being content, alive, and happy.

Boredom

Boredom can be sneaky, as you might have noticed. There’s no neon sign that flashes, “I’m bored.” Rather, your focus slowly drifts away, and you find you’re uninvolved with the task at hand, your attention out there in the ethers.

The fix: The antidote to boredom is engagement. If you’re procrastinating because you’re bored, try these:

  • Reconnect with your excitement about the project you’re working on.
  • Remember your mission, the reason you’re writing—to help, entertain, educate, or inspire people—and keep that foremost in your mind and heart.
  • Use a timer. I like kukuklok.com because you can choose your alarm sound. Set it for 30 minutes, then get to it. Important note: it works on a 24-hour clock, so 3:00 pm is 15:00.
  • Take a break by doing something pleasurable, then take that sense of pleasure back to your project.
  • Move your energy by walking, jumping, or stretching. Let spontaneous sounds emerge from you. Don’t worry—no one’s listening.
  • Work on something else for a while that engages you more.
  • Consider modifying the project in some way so it brings you joy.

Fear

Unexamined fear virtually guarantees that you’ll procrastinate. Leave fear festering, and you’ll slip off into mindless and even harmful activities. I know you want to avoid fear like the plague, but I promise you’ll find it helpful to turn toward it in a friendly and welcoming way.

If you want to stay alive and engaged in your work, get serious about dealing with fear.

The fix: Become familiar with how fear arises in you. Remember, awareness always equals empowerment. Become fully aware of fear, then apply skills so it’s not in charge.

  • Be curious and compassionate as you explore fear.
  • Turn your attention toward the fear. Lean into it. Discover how it expresses itself in scary thoughts about the future and in the physical sensations in your body.
  • Recognize that fear is not your enemy—it’s a natural human emotion.

Now, put the fear aside. Literally, stand up and walk away from it. You may need to do that 100 times a day, but that’s okay. Each time quiets the fear just a little bit more. Find the place of wisdom and clarity in you that is so much stronger than fear, and let that guide you.

Limiting Thoughts

Negative, judgmental beliefs about yourself and your abilities are like taking a sledgehammer to your enthusiasm. If this habit creeps in while you’re writing, no wonder you’re having a hard time staying focused.

The fix: We tend to assume our automatic thoughts are true without investigating them. Are they?

  • Question each thought to determine if it’s true or not. (Hint: It isn’t.)
  • Notice how negative thoughts affect your body, mind, and emotions.
  • See that these thoughts aren’t serving you.
  • Take a couple of deep, cleansing breaths to help the thoughts move through.
  • Bring compassion to the painful place in you that gives rise to these thoughts.
  • Reconnect with your true intention that is way more real, alive, and expansive than self-critical thinking.

See how procrastination is an opportunity?

Each time you lose your focus, check in with yourself—with wonder and curiosity. Are you bored, afraid, or consumed in negative thinking?

Once you’ve identified the source of procrastination, use the right tool for the job. Your conflict and resistance will subside, leaving you fresh, energized, and ready to write again.

Now, over to you.
What fuels procrastination in you? What strategies have you found to be useful to overcome procrastination?

About the Author: Gail Brenner, Ph.D. is a psychologist and author. She joyfully shares insights about discovering that suffering is optional at GailBrenner.com.
Image: Dog courtesy of Bigstockphoto

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36 thoughts on “Overcome Procrastination With These Easy Strategies”

  • Robert says:

    Bookmarked for later ;)

  • Jane says:

    Great tips Gail :) I occasionally find myself procrastinating due to boredom and I can totally relate with your tips. I usually get back to square one and remind myself about WHY I started the project in the first place and what the outcomes are are. This gives me the needed motivation to get back on track fast.

    Thanks again :)

  • Bob Marshall says:

    On taking a quick glance, this seems to be an excellent post; I’ll look at it properly later ;) !

    Seriously, thank you for this. It is just the kind of kick in the pants I need!

    Great post, marvellous site.

  • PtronAV says:

    Love the motivation. Thank you, Gail.

    I would add that procrastination comes because something else is easier. A lot of times the inspiration in our mind comes easily. We can clearly envision it mentally, see the setting and know the characters and their names. You can sit in it and live in that world growing spontaneously and organically in your imagination.

    But sitting down to write it is not like that. Clearly outlining it, formulating it, constructing it, shaping it, bringing it to life in a way that conveys what you saw with your mind’s eye and felt in your heart takes creative energy–sometimes a lot. Researching the scene or characters (or “checking email for the millionth time” ;) ) becomes easier than the act of creation. Do you have any tips or thoughts about that cause of procrastination?

    I have a thought that I haven’t yet tried (ashamedly). I’m a Christian, and I hope you’ll allow me to speak honestly, and I believe Yahweh is the Ultimate Creator. When He created humans, he did so in a way that we would reflect His image (thus “created in His image”), much like some of the personality traits and physical characteristics of a parent are reflected in their children. As such, one inherent characteristic of humans is our desire–almost need–to create. For writers, it’s creating story arcs, worlds, settings, characters, etc.

    I’m thinking that when I find the act of creating difficult, I need to connect with THE Creator. Connect with His creative power through prayer and reading the Bible, and get back to creation. :) In fact, I often find that I get the greatest inspiration while reading the Bible. Of course, I’m trying to study the Bible and then getting distracted with stories, but still, the power is there.

    I didn’t mean to preach. I just love Jesus and writing, and the two are connected for me. But I also wanted to share here. I hope this helps and doesn’t offend but encourages.

    • I appreciate this comment, PtronAV, because it speaks to the reality of the creative process. I know that distinction well: the creativity that lands at the oddest times—not necessarily when I’m in front of my computer—then later trying to find the words to communicate the feeling of the idea that appeared. And that’s also what I love about writing—discovering just the right way to say something so it comes alive as it was meant to be. That’s so satisfying!

      I think you’ve answered your own question about this cause of procrastination—knowing that the execution is an intimate part of the creative process and reconnecting with your grander intention, whether it is to help, entertain, or be a clear channel for the Ultimate Creation to be expressed.

      And sometimes it’s just hard work. That’s when I use a timer to nudge me back into my project.

  • Writing, exercising, eating less … no problem with procrastination.

    But anything to do with tax… oh, my!

    Here’s a confession (but don’t tell my tax advisor):
    I’m writing this comment because I can’t quite get myself started on sorting out my tax mess….

    • I made a comment, Mary.
      Did it get lost?
      Steve

      • Hey Steve, I looked everywhere for your comment, but I just couldn’t find it.

        Could you please rewrite your comment? If you could also whip through an email to me on writetodone[at]gmail[dot]com and let me know you’ve sent it, we can check out what happens.

        PS Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Steve. That’s so nice about having our helpful DreamTeam members :)

        • Hi, Mary.
          Will do! That is, if I can remember what I wrote. I was at the dentist office when I sent it, so maybe HE extracted it! LOL

          In case it doesn’t get through, I really enjoyed this article by Gail. Hey, I might as well do this here, right . . . why wait!

          Lots of great ideas, Gail. The “Limiting Thoughts” really hit home.

          My biggest issue seems to be when I wake up to a lot of work . . . like today.
          I wander around, wondering what I should start on.

          I recently got one of those tablet thingies and now use the calendar feature. I prioritize my tasks the night before, load them into my calendar and it pops them up in the morning.

          And because it synchs with my Google+ calendar, I can check it wherever I am.

          Gail, thanks again for the great article . . . and for posting the fixes as well!
          Steve

          • Sounds like you are well on the road to organizing your work, Steve. It’s essential when we spend a lot of time by ourselves and our work is self-motivated.

            This structure that you describe helps you to know where to focus your energy and facilitates getting things done – which feels great! Don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back for a good day of work.

    • LOL, Mary! I think we need a new set of tips to stop procrastinating about things we really don’t want to do! Maybe block off the time in your calendar, set a timer, then know you’ll feel so much better when it’s done.

  • Peggyanne says:

    On Wed, Aug 27, 2014 at 2:47 AM, peggyanne wrote:

    This could not have landed on my computer at a more meaningful time.
    Thanks, Peggyanne

    From: Write to Done
    Sent: Tuesday, August 26, 2014 8:09 AM

  • Eva says:

    I’ve heard that procrastination–what I’m doing right now–is perfectionism’s evil twin. I just have to remember–Done is better than perfect. At least for a first draft.

    • Yes, Eva. One cause of procrastination can be perfectionism. And perfectionism may fall under the categories of limiting beliefs and fear in this article. Maybe some of those strategies will help you.

      If you find yourself stuck trying to be perfect, keep going. That’s your mantra. You can always edit later.

  • Alex says:

    This article is beautifully analyzing what’s going on inside of us when we don’t want to (not:can’t) write. And yes, it’s true, you have to be your own shrink and start a tiny-scale-theraphy with yourself – like in so many instances in life.

    I think the core of it all is a principle mentioned several times throughout this post: No resistance! Whatever negative feeling you have, there is no use in just resisting and denying it (“I’m so lazy, I hate that!,” “I have to do it, I just can’t, but I have to!,” “I’m not procrastinating, I just have to make sure I miss nothing important on Facebook!”, etc…). Whatever you resist, you put more importance on, and whatever you put more importance on grows.

    So instead of nourishing your resistance, go to opposite route: Recognize that you are only human, and yes, fear and laziness are part of you too. So what are you gonna do now, fear and laziness, heh? Once they are unmasked and accepted, you can realistically go on to make a little change and say “Yes, that just was a moment ago, but it doesn’t need to be in the next moment. It could be, but doesn’t have to be. Let’s see!” The truth frees.

    So acknowledge these feelings, but don’t resist them!

    Finally, after all is said and done, I have good news and bad news for everybody: The bad news is that no matter what intellectual process you employ to make your life easier, in the end you will just have to push through procrastination on your own. Like the great poet Nike once said: “Just do it!” There is really nothing else helping you but doing it.

    The good news is, once you tip your toe into the cold water, your body temperature adjusts. Which is to say, take a liiiittle bit of action, and it will feed upon itself and lead to a liiittle bit of more action, which in turn leads to even more action and suddenly you start to enjoy the process again. Static things want to stay static – but moving things want to stay in movement! So this principle doesn’t just have to work against you, it can also work for you.

    No matter how much you feel like doing anything else in the world but this, no matter how discouraged and stupid you feel for even doing it at all, no matter how much you want to watch another episode of “Breaking Bad” right now – just go ahead and type one little sentence into your laptop! Just a single one. It will already be easier to type the second one. And the third one will be even more lighthearted. You have come so far now, so why stop? It’s motivating.

    That’s the best way I found to trick myself into greatness. :)

    • Much wisdom here, Alex. Thanks! A big “yes!” to not resisting feelings. Befriending procrastination, knowing how it works can offer solutions to move through it. Pretending it isn’t there only leads to more confusion – which is true of all emotions.

  • Bronx Kuttner says:

    Noticed in the sentence “Then you’re free to make a conscious about how you want to proceed.” there seems to be a word missing. (Decision) Great post. I enjoyed every moment spent reading about myself and how I react vs how I should react. It is as if you knew me!

  • Your site has been very helpful and inspirational.

  • Pooja says:

    Thanks for the inspiring post Gail! You smashed it with solid tips to beat procrastination.

    As someone with two Kindle books on the topic, I’m always looking for more reading and research. My favourite from your list is what to do when you are bored of your projects.

    “The antidote to boredom is engagement.” Well-said!

    As a “multipotentialite”, I need to be constantly challenged and engaged and tend to go through bouts of boredom.

    Thankfully, writers have several projects going on at once. So although it doesn’t matter that much, I still know the feeling when boredom sneaks in.

    But re-engaging with your project with those tips? Awesome!

    Thank you for the post Gail. I look forward to reading more from you on WTD!

    Pooja

  • Keith Yatsuhashi says:

    The irony here is that I saw this, it distracted me and in reading, I procrastinated. Sigh.

  • Colin says:

    Excellent article! I needed this. The dangers of procrastination are real, mainly because they feed on themselves. Self loathing leads to procrastination, which leads to more self loathing, which leads to more procrastination, etc… This is the cycle I’m in now. I’m a writer with an agent, and sometimes I can see the brass ring is so close. Other times, it seems so far away that I’ll never reach it, let alone do it all again with another book. This article has given me hope to break the cycle. Thanks so much!

    • Hi Colin,

      I can totally understand the cycle of self-loathing and procrastination. Why would you ever want to put yourself out there if you’re doubting yourself and your talents. The section on limiting beliefs might be particularly helpful to you.

      As for that “brass ring,” it will either come – or not. So you do your best, then know that the ultimate result is out of your hands. Hard, I know, but there are certain things we just can’t control.

  • Hi Gail,
    I enjoyed you post. Procrastination is a tough one and most writers I know do it. I liked your point about limiting thoughts as a form of procrastination. It reminded me of the resistance that Steven Pressfield writes about.

    I agree that it’s also an opportunity to evaluate what’s preventing progress and to review the tools we use to get the job done.

    • I love that you see procrastination as an opportunity, Bryan! When it comes, it comes. We can’t control that. But we do get to decide what to do with it. We can let it run wild and deter us from our accomplishments or step back, say “hello, procrastination,” and pull out the toolbox.

  • I build it into my week — I know I’ll hit a wall mid to late week, so that’s when I do the social media scheduling.

  • Briana says:

    Man oh man. This post hits home. I’ve been putting off revision of my novel because I’m terrified. It’s important to overcome fear if we want to accomplish something. Check out the post I wrote about facing fear that pairs well with this one: http://thecollegenovelista.com/2014/09/05/on-facing-fear/

    • That’s a beautiful post, Briana. I’m so glad you are facing your fears!

      OK, so you’re afraid of failure. But that doesn’t mean you will fail. It’s just fear – a negative projection into the (unknown) future. As I said in the post, put the fear aside. That makes space for your full lovely self to be expressed. Now, go and work on that novel!

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