Life and Writing Advice is a blog series intended to help writers, editors, and freelancers learn from each other. Sometimes the most helpful information is knowing that we’re not alone in our experiences, that others can empathize with us, and that we can learn from others.
Once a month, we give a writer a prompt question. Then we post the writer’s response. Get ready to read about personal experiences that impacted or changed writers’ and freelancers’ lives. We hope this series connects people and provides inspiration. Let us know your thoughts about our series in the comments!
It’s late — too close to my bedtime and I’ve got work in the morning. I should just go to sleep, right? Alas, I cannot succumb to the sweet embrace of slumber just yet. A big project that I’ve been putting off has finally caught up to me, and I’m forced to work into the wee hours of the night to complete the work.
This happens a lot to me. From my youngest years in elementary school all the way up to my last year as a senior in college, I’ve always put off projects and work until the very last minute. (Yes, Dr. Moss. I finished that Shakespeare analysis just moments before class. That’s why the paper is still warm — please don’t smear the ink.)
But why haven’t I learned from my past mistakes? Why do I continue to torture myself by pushing my work off until the night (sometimes even the morning) before?
Hello. My name is Tawny and I am a procrastinator.
We’ve all heard this word: procrastinator. But what does it really mean?
Pro·cras·ti·na·tor (noun): A person who habitually puts off doing things.
I mean, everybody has procrastinated once or twice in their lives. It’s a natural thing for humans to seek out pleasure and relaxation over work and stress. We are happy to gain instant gratification, and we will do what we can to shirk off responsibility if it means that we can remain blissful for just a few more minutes.
But as a writer, being a procrastinator is not something that is especially useful in my career. When I have a deadline coming up, I need to make sure that I finish my work beforehand so that I have time to edit, rewrite, and possibly cry before finally sending in my finished copy. Waiting until the last moments to finish my work means a lower level of quality and hinders my ability to get everything I want on the page correctly.
So how can you and I overcome this obstacle? In what ways are we working to become better, more efficient writers? That’s what I’m here to find out. As a personal goal, I’ve set out to discover ways that I can conquer my procrastination tendencies so I have more time to accomplish my personal goals without the inevitable late-night working sprees.
Step 1: Discover the Reasons Behind My Procrastination
In my experience, I notice that most of the time, my procrastination stems from a lack of motivation. Too often, I find myself with no desire to work on a project when there are so many other things I could be doing—like sleeping! Instead, I push off doing the hard stuff until there’s literally no more time to waste.
Another reason I am so quick to push away a project is because I’ve been telling myself my whole life, “I work really well under pressure.”
And this is true.
There’s really something to be said about making time your main motivator when finishing a project. Nothing gets those creative juices flowing quite like pure panic and the possibility of complete failure. And with so many years of this constant stress and self-created pressure under my belt, it’s become almost second-nature to allow myself to wait until those last critical moments before a project is due to actually work on it.
But just imagine what I could do if I were able to get into this creative mindset before the deadline is hovering over me? How powerful will I become?
Knowing these whys behind my procrastination is useful, as it can tell me exactly what I’m lacking when working on a project and what I can do to combat the problem.
Step 2: Determine What Procrastination Looks Like
Not everyone’s procrastination looks the same. Some may switch their focus to spending time with friends, updating their Pinterest boards, or watching a movie.
Take time to understand what is unique about your own personal style of postponement. In order to overcome your own brand of procrastination, it’s important to first understand what it looks like so that you are more aware of your mind’s desperate attempt to escape from a hard/boring/time-consuming project.
For me, I’ve noticed that my procrastination takes the form of false productivity. When there’s a project I have to complete (this article, for example) and I’m finding it hard to concentrate or stay motivated to work on it, I’ll tell myself that it’s all right to work on something else as long as it’s still productive. So instead of doing what’s expected of me, I’ll put my focus on cleaning my car, finishing the laundry, and maybe even alphabetizing my bookshelves…
While this form of procrastination may help to knock some things off of my to-do list, it’s still hindering my ability to finish tasks that are much more time-sensitive.
Step 3: Create Mental Strategies to Keep Focus
Now that I have a little information on why and how I procrastinate, I am better equipped to come up with solutions that I can use to destroy my urge to run away from all of my problems. Because any goal has to begin within the mental sphere, the first thing I put my focus on is creating mental strategies that I can use to regain focus on my projects. Here are some approaches I am trying to follow:
Try to Make the Project Fun
When I’m writing something and I find myself losing motivation, I try to find a way to make the work more enjoyable. For example, if I tell myself that I can go watch a few YouTube videos or read a few chapters of a book after I’m done with a few pages, then it helps me find that long-lost motivation and allows me to regain focus on my project.
Take Short Breaks
There comes a turning point in every project where you just want to get away from it for a while, and this is fine. It’s good to take a break every so often to refresh your mind and reset your focus. The main concern, in this case, is not to let the break go on for too long. For example, if I’m working on a project that is really burning me out, I make sure to physically leave my workspace and go get a snack or walk my dogs. This activity removes me from the work while still keeping a time limit on my break.
Understand When I’m Procrastinating
Now that I know the ways that I procrastinate, I can be more aware of when I’m purposely pushing myself away from my work and make a conscious effort to place myself back into productivity mode. If I notice that I’m not focusing on my work and I’m instead starting to reorganize my desk space or deleting old content from my computer, I’ll understand that this is my way of procrastinating, and I can redirect my attention back on the task at hand.
Step 4: Adopt Physical Reminders for Projects
There are so many tools that are designed to promote focus that it’s not even funny. From sticky notes to phone apps, there is always a way to help improve your productivity. It’s just up to you to decide which features are most useful to you.
In my case, I found that a physical calendar placed next to my monitor is extremely helpful in keeping me aware of upcoming project deadlines. Sure, there are digital calendars that you can have on your phone or computer, but I found that physically writing down what I need to remember and then constantly having it in my face is what I need most to keep me in line.
These four steps have given me something to think about when it comes to procrastination. While procrastination has held me back in some aspects of my life and career, it has truly helped me to develop skills that are incredibly useful in my current career. (Those quick-thinking skills that are crucial when trying to finish an eight-hour project in just an hour? Check.)
So my journey still continues. Do I still procrastinate? You can bet on it. (I waited until the last few days to finish this blog post, actually.) But am I working to overcome my own shortcomings in the meantime? Absolutely. I can’t change my entire personality in just a few weeks, after all.
One day at a time is all we can ask for, so let’s make the most of it.