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 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.
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.
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?