Short-circuit your inner procrastinator
Tips on how to trick your brain into getting work done, even when you’d much rather watch terrible reality TV.
Procrastination is a part of the artistic process. At least, it is for mine. Even as I write this, I’ve got Bachelor in Paradise (don’t judge me!) on in the background as a slight distraction, almost a way to convince myself that I’m not working on a Sunday afternoon. A lot of artists procrastinate, which, when you think about it, makes sense.
Making art is an act of brave vulnerability.
Writers, in particular, take their emotional past and infuse it into their characters, taking a world that only exists in their minds and doing everything they can to get that onto the page. Add in everyday life stressors and it’s no wonder we push off going into that vulnerable place.
I’ve recently been battling my own procrastination impulses. After taking a break from writing this past spring, I jumped back into my manuscript at the beginning of the summer. On my first day of working on it, I poured myself a cup of coffee, opened my computer, pulled out the notes I had made a few months previous, and then stared out the window. For almost an hour.
I had no idea where to start.
But I had a set that time. So I showed up. And stared. And then avoided it for another two days before showing up again. I stared out the window for about twenty minutes and then took a “break” that lasted the rest of the day. But I kept coming back to it. Each day that I had scheduled to work on my mess of a novel, I showed up. Two weeks later I wasn’t where I had thought I would be, but I had started to make progress. Like going to the gym, half the battle is showing up, even if it’s just to walk on the treadmill for an hour. The same is true for me as writer. Usually if I show up, I’ll get some work done.
If you’re like me, you’ve got to short-circuit your procrastination impulses, trick your brain into doing the work. Here are a few tips to try:
Set the time and show up. Whether it’s Saturday mornings before you start your weekend plans or at 9pm on Wednesdays after you’ve completed your day, set that time. And then sit your butt in the seat. If the words don’t come, just sit. Don’t give in to the temptation to do something else. You’re more likely to get to work if you show up enough.
Unplug your Internet connection. Like, actually unplug it. And while you’re at it, put your phone on airplane mode. Or put in another room on the opposite side of your home if you can. Do whatever works to remove the temptation to scroll through social media or check your email or take care of some other task. In all that boredom that happens when you’re not connected, you might cave and do some work.
Come up with a plan. Either the day before or right at the top of your writing session, set achievable goals for that time. Save a bit of time at the end of your writing time to check in on your progress and set the goals for the next writing session. This can help you not only move forward in a project, but also help you see what you can realistically accomplish. Adjust your goals according to the reality of how you work, not the aspirational way you wish you would work. The boost from being able to achieve these smaller goals will help you build the confidence needed to achieve the larger goal of finishing the project.
While the above tips can help you get over your tendency to procrastinate, it’s also important to examine the stressors in your life and how they might impact your mental and emotional energy. Does work stress you out? Do you take care of an aging parent, a sick partner, or a young child? Have any major life events happened lately (i.e. loss of stable income, recent breakup, moving into a new home, etc.)? Some people can sustain a creative life in these circumstances, but for others, these things can make pursuing a creative life much more challenging. As in all things, go easy on yourself and recognize what limits and boundaries you need to set to stay healthy.