Been There, Done That: Dealing with Procrastination

Photo by Martina Misar-Tummeltshammer on Unsplash

 

There is a ton of science-backed advice on how to deal with procrastination, which I have tried and tested during the past few years. I thought people might enjoy reading about my experiences–I still occasionally procrastinate, mind you, but it’s not that bad anymore–and perhaps see how the advice from scientists work out in real-life scenarios.

 

Know where your procrastination is coming from. 

I’ve always wondered why I find it so easy to do certain things and procrastinate on others. After much soul-searching and self-analysis, I realized that I tend to do the unimportant stuff first and put off the really important things. So yes, I’m one of those typical people whose fear of failure manifests as procrastination. Knowing that this is my fear has helped: I tell myself that no one knows what could happen, and there’s no point in giving up before trying.

Another thing that I notice: I also tend to judge the importance of a task according to how much monetary value it may have. That’s another thing I’m working on because that’s a very terrible and unhappy-making attitude to have.

Break your task into small, manageable steps. 

This is something that all anti-procrastination sites tell you to do because it really works. If I’m writing a book, I break it down to word count–after some trial and error, I’ve found that 500 words a day works for me. Sometimes, when I’m on a roll, I go over, but during the days when fatigue or lack of inspiration have caught up with me, it feels like I’ve accomplished something when I hit that 500, and it makes me feel like I can keep going on the next day. (Also, it really helps to have a plot outline, which does the work of breaking things down into chapters or even subsections of chapters.)

When it comes to short stories, I find it harder to use a word count method so I use time-based goals, usually fifteen to twenty minutes of writing, a five-minute break, then back to writing again until I’ve used up about three hours. I’ve long accepted that I can’t sit still for an hour to write something, so again through trial and error, I’ve discovered that I can do bursts of fifteen-minute chunks.

Find your kid. 

Before my friend Mabel had her kid, she was a huge procrastinator who started lots of projects but never finished them. But then after her kid was born, she suddenly became this extremely efficient and punctual person. She told me that once you have a kid, you will do everything to make sure that you get your work done quickly and correctly so you can spend time with your child.

And it’s true! I came up with the idea for my kids’ book in 2010, and I made several attempts at writing it over the years, but it wasn’t until I had a kid that I managed to finish it. Before we go on, I want to very emphatically say that I am not encouraging you to have children. If you’re child-free, so much the better because kids are terrible for the environment, and I am deeply sorry for my part in environmental degradation. And I also want to acknowledge how lucky and privileged I am that even though I’m a single parent, my mom pitches in to take care of the kid, we live in a country where we can hire help, and my work allows me to stay at home.

My point, however, is that everyone needs something (or someone) that they love that is demanding of time and attention, takes a lot of energy, and can’t be ignored. For me and Mabel, our kid is an actual child, but for you, it may be a business or a pet or house renovations or charity work, anything! When you feel like you have limited time to get something done, it should galvanize you into completing it.

 

The most important thing I discovered about procrastination is that you can’t get over it quickly. It’s true what the scientists say: it’s a matter of just getting into the habit of not procrastinating by creating a structure and a system around you that supports your writing.

Also, one thing that a lot of articles about procrastination don’t mention is the sunk-cost effect. In the past, there were times when I already put off something I was supposed to do and I’d think, “Well, I already wasted half an hour, there’s no point in doing it anymore.” Or worse, I would panic-procrastinate: “Crap! I already spent half an hour reading /nosleep, I need to get off this site and work as soon as I finish these ten other threads!”

By removing the panic and guilt, I was able to make a proper decision: “Do I want to schedule work for later today or add extra time throughout the week? Or can I just get off this site now and try to catch up and do my best?”

Goals are important but there’s no point in beating yourself up if you don’t meet them. Procrastination goals exist to make things easier for you so that you enjoy what you’re supposed to do, not make you feel guilty and horrible about being a failure.

So forgive yourself for your lapses and just keep trying.

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