Manage your time and emotions
I read a lot of poorly written business documents that make me wonder about people’s time-management skills.
I wonder if they put off writing because they think they can’t write well. (Quite a few business writers tell me they don’t like writing.) Maybe they are pushed for time with endless meetings to attend. Or maybe their documents ping-pong around the office with people making both helpful and unhelpful changes and comments.
Even if you have disciplined work habits, some writing projects are difficult and it’s tempting to procrastinate. I have first-hand experience of this – I have written a young-adult manuscript and am trying to motivate myself to go through it one last time before sending it to an agent. I am procrastinating like a pro. What is stopping me? Fear?
Managing your time may mean managing your emotions
I read an interesting BBC article a couple of months ago that said procrastination is an emotional, not a time, issue. The author, Christian Jarrett, says: ‘The task we’re putting off is making us feel bad – perhaps it’s boring, too difficult or we’re worried about failing – and to make ourselves feel better in the moment, we start doing something else, like watching videos.’
He quotes a survey by Jessica Myrick, Indiana University, who found that procrastination was a common motive for watching cat videos. Watching the videos made many people feel good in the moment, but guilty afterwards. (What’s your favourite ‘go to’ when you’re procrastinating? I can get sucked into Facebook or LinkedIn, and even a game of solitaire, but I seldom watch cat videos.)
Just start writing
Christian Jarrett advocates an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) approach to overcoming procrastination. Using this approach, you accept your uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, stay in the moment and take action anyway. (Read more about ACT at Psychology Today)
This reminds me of the title of a book by Susan Jeffers: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (first published in 1987).
I agree, taking action, no matter how you feel, is the best approach. As you write, your project may gain its own momentum which could drive procrastination away or keep it at a manageable level. Maybe you could limit yourself to one cat video or one game of solitaire a day?
Monitoring your time and setting priorities may help
Sometimes, ‘just start writing’ doesn’t work for me when I have a number of competing priorities pressing on my time. Having worked for myself for years, I’ve learnt some techniques to help me manage my time.
- Monitor the way you use your time for a week or so. It’s quite interesting to look objectively at your habits and identify the things that distract you. For instance:
- Do I really need to go out for coffee every morning when mornings are my most productive writing times?
- Is that load of washing essential right now?
- Write a ‘to do’ list. I love lists and keep a hard-copy diary for writing lists. I usually write a ‘to do’ list at the beginning of the week and one each morning as well. I get pleasure from ticking items off when I have done them. I am aware that a list can become another form of procrastination. If I am procrastinating about writing, my list can suddenly attract a number of domestic items. Sometimes it’s satisfying to complete things I’ve been meaning to do for ages, but not when they are at the expense of writing. Sometimes when I juggle several things at once, I end up feeling that everything has taken ages and nothing is done well.
- Prioritise tasks according to the times of day you work best. When my unproductiveness becomes overwhelmingly frustrating, I start prioritising. I know I work best in the morning and lose energy mid-afternoon. If my emotional resistance doesn’t get in the way, I try to do writing tasks that require concentration in the morning.
If only I always followed my own advice!
I’m off now to edit my manuscript. Or maybe I should take a look at cat videos first to see what the attraction is…
Email me your tips on overcoming writing procrastination.