You’re at your desk early. But an hour later, your writing outline remains undone. Meanwhile, you’ve emptied your email box … sorted your pencils and pens … separated paper clips from the rubber bands in the desk drawer.
You’ve just succumbed to a wave of writer’s procrastination.
The condition is different than writer’s block. Your writer’s block is a lapse in creativity or motivation that leaves you staring at a blinking cursor with nothing to show for your time.
In contrast, writer’s procrastination is a deliberate delay. Oh, you stay busy. You may even have lots of tidy little accomplishments to show for your efforts. But you postpone writing tasks and avoid the tough stuff.
Procrastination has a short-term benefit: you get a reprieve from hard work.
But long-term, your writing life doesn’t respond well to procrastination. At best, your productivity plummets. At worst, you miss deadlines. Neither is optimum for a writer.
Some writers procrastinate more than others. I could take space here to dissect our different susceptibilities to delay, but that would only put off the inevitable: writing. Instead, let’s jump to the heart of the matter by identifying what it looks like to postpone a writing task. You know you procrastinate when you ….
Why do you and I self-sabotage? You’re not lazy. Look at the research you’ve gathered … your color-coded grocery list … your list of email templates to try out. You invested sweat equity to complete those tasks. You’re willing to work hard.
It’s not about your work ethic. It’s about your mood. So says Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa.
“Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem,” says Dr. Pychyl. “Not a time management problem.” He backs up the assertion with a study conducted in partnership with Dr. Fuschia Sirios of the University of Sheffield, England. Procrastination, they conclude, is what happens when you focus on managing your negative moods rather than completing a task.
In other words, your attention is riveted on keeping yourself in a positive mindset. Some of those pesky writing tasks can get in the way of all those fuzzy feels. It’s best to simply avoid them so you can stay in a good mood, right? The problem is you can’t seem to get any writing done.
But there’s good news for all the hardworking writers out there who put off a writing task.
In his book The Productivity Project, productivity guru Chris Bailey explains how to reverse procrastination. Shift your focus from your shortcomings like perfectionism, fear of failure, fear of criticism, and decision fatigue. Instead, zero in on the tasks themselves — and how they impact your attitude.
There are at least 7 reasons a task is so unappealing that you avoid it, Bailey explains.
The next time you find yourself not writing – but doing something else instead – figure out why. Go through the laundry list. Ask yourself, “Is this task boring … frustrating … difficult … ambiguous ... unstructured … unrewarding … unmeaningful?” You can identify the trigger that makes you procrastinate.
Then give yourself a different reason to complete the task. Chris Bailey calls this, “flipping the triggers.” Or in the words of Brown University’s Dr. Judson Brewer, give your brain a “Bigger Better Offer,” or “B.B.O.” For instance, when a task is …
Don’t blindly accept the lie that you’re procrastinating because you’re undisciplined or lazy. There’s a good chance that your pause in writing is an indication that you’re not fully invested in the project. Ask, “Why? What’s my mood or what am I trying to avoid?”
Use writers procrastination to your advantage. Answer the “Why?” question, and then flip your answer. Pretty soon, you’ll be out of the rut … and words will flow once again.
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Content by award-winning content writer and author Kathy Widenhouse, who specializes in writing for nonprofits and faith-based organizations.
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