Managing procrastination

17 02 2009

When people hear you are a writer, one of the first things they ask is ‘where do you get your ideas from?’. This has always seemed a completely ridiculous question to me. I even embrace my hatred of it during writing workshops when somebody inevitably asks the question of a visiting author. I smugly think of the asker – Why are you here? If you need to ask the question you are obviously not a writer.  Perhaps I should be more sympathetic.

So who would I extend my sympathy to? The procrastinators of course.

And why? Well that’s pretty obvious. Because procrastination, I get. I mean right now, I’m writing this piece while reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (as suggested by Elle), and all the while knowing I should be finishing my rewrite because it’s due by the end of next week.

But there it is – a-ha! You might think this is just another post, but really it’s procrastination management in action. Don’t worry, I’ll lay it all out for you because the mind of the procrastinator is infinitely tricky and convoluted, and often requires explanation.

You see the day started with me knowing what had to be done. So of course I didn’t do that. I dropped the kids at school (that had to be done too). Then I came home and realised I hadn’t actually eaten breakfast. I am not one to skip breakfast (so naturally that had to be done as well). But then sitting in an empty house eating breakfast in silence is a waste of time, so I thought I’d eat in my office, get the computer booted up and, hey, I could even watch some of that latest episode of Battlestar Galactica I downloaded from I-Tunes. Multitasking, I told myself.

Breakfast done, I turned off the visual stimulus. I’m no time waster.

So then I began tidying my desk, in readiness for what had to be done. But that involved moving the book, ‘Bird by Bird’, which I then thought I might begin reading… just to get me in the mood. I read a few pages. Then I flicked through to see exactly how many pages there were in the introduction. Let me tell you, it’s a very long introduction. I continued reading, my finger jammed between the pages at the beginning of chapter one. You see, I had a goal now. I knew when the useful procrastination would stop and my rewriting begin. But it was a really long introduction. My reader brain kept on reading, but my observer brain developed guilt and kept harping on about the reality of this not being useful to the day’s task of rewriting.  

I grabbed a pencil and stuck it between the pages of the book. The introduction could wait. Hey, I thought, I just stopped reading. And before that I stopped watching my favourite tv show. This was good. I was managing my procrastination.

I quickly began to type. On the blank page. About nothing to do with my rewrite.

But let’s not focus on the negative. Because the great thing is that it’s now 10.30am and I still have the whole day ahead of me. I’ve indulged all the little interests around me and I’m actually eager to get into the rewrite.

For some of us, procrastination is just part of the process. And perhaps it too can only be managed, bird by bird. 




3 responses

17 02 2009

Yep, we’re on the same page alright (not just reading the same book). I posted ‘Elle is procrastinating’ on my facebook page this morning. Just a bit eerie…

And yes, it is a long intro, hehe. Gotcha.

28 02 2009
Emma Newman

This is a great post – we beat ourselves up too much as struggling writers I think.

I have fretted about how I always check in with my online life before I settle to my book, and you know, after reading this I won’t fret any more! There is procrastination, and then there is just getting the brain warmed up. As long as that warm up time stays short – and thinking about it, it usually does – then why not do that and then write? We’re not monks!

2 03 2009

So glad we could be of help Emma!

Now that we’ve got procrastination beat, we just need to work out that little old self-discipline thing.

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