Procrastination. We all do it. I’m here to tell you procrastination isn’t all that bad. In fact, it wants to be your friend.
Procrastination gets dumped on because of what it keeps you from doing. But, as with almost everything, there is a flip side. When you procrastinate, you have to procrastinate by doing something.
I had a very interesting conversation about this yesterday. I’ve been putting off a major cleaning escapade because, frankly, it’s an overwhelmingly huge project and I don’t like cleaning. So, while I was busy not cleaning in the last week or so, I managed to:
- mow the lawn
- re-seed the back yard
- transplant some flowers
- mulch the garden
- update our finances
- get my phone call to-do list pared down
- put down new garden edging, flagstones, and gravel
- aerate the lawn
- write several flash fiction pieces
- add a couple hundred words to my work in progress (WIP)
- sort through one of my kids’ clothes & throw out all the too-small stuff
- catch up with some friends
Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a pretty good amount of productivity there!
Is my cleaning done? Nope. Not even close. But, is that really a bad thing? Overall, probably not. Sure, I’ll panic a bit when it comes down to the wire for my cleaning to be done. Then again, a little panic can go a long way toward getting something done. Moreover, on the never-ending to-do lists that go with life, I’ve crossed off a good chunk. Sure, they’ll be replaced by other things (too quickly for my tastes), but overall, I’ve got a lot less on my plate than I did before I began procrastinating. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I had been procrastinating on a bunch of those other things (e.g. the garden edging had been waiting for at least 8 months).
Now that all those other things are done, the cleaning seems less overwhelming. This is likely due to the fact that I don’t feel all these other (less odious) tasks pulling at me. Stuff is done, stress is down.
So, how does this relate to your (or my) writing? It relates in a few ways.
- If you have a feeling you “just have to” do something (say, mulch the yard), go with it if you can (e.g. it’s not winter). You’ll work better and faster when you’ve got that “have to” bug. Unless there’s something really important that has to come first (like getting insulin), everything else can wait. You’ll be more relaxed when you get to the other stuff because you’ve got that “have to” bug taken care of AND your to-do list will be shorter.
- If you are procrastinating in a productive way (e.g. not playing solitaire), instead of beating yourself up over it, be honest. There are pros and cons. If the pros outweigh the cons, then you’re making a good choice. Sure, you could be working on your WIP, but it is important to call your mother.
- If there’s something you have to do that you really don’t want to (taxes, perhaps?), you can use that to help you write. E.g. “I don’t want to do my taxes… I’ll spend an hour on my WIP first.”
Procrastination can be problematic. But, if we are honest with ourselves (“Yup, I’m procrastinating!”) and look at what we gain/lose as objectively as we can, then we can use the procrastination to our benefit. At that point, it’s not so much procrastinating as making a choice. Sure, we’re maybe tackling some unpleasant things because of a more unpleasant thing we’re avoiding, but it’s getting done!
In all honesty, the list of things we all have to balance is endless. While everything has to get done eventually, people often feel like it all has to be done now. That’s not true. Laundry only becomes truly important when you’re about to run out of clothes. Taxes (in the US) become really pressing in April. Until those times, why not use the lack of desire to do them to put a fire under something else? I promise, when you’re down to your last set of skivvies, you’ll want to do the laundry (at least more than you did before).
The point of this post is to put procrastination into perspective. It can help you write, but (as I’m sure you know) it can take from your writing. The key to balance is to make a conscious choice and to procrastinate by doing something useful. (Save the TV or solitaire for when you want to reward yourself).
One last thought. The best way, in my mind, to keep procrastination for taking away from your writing is to put in deadlines – especially for longer projects. If you do NOT have a goal, then your writing is in an unfair competition for your time and attention when it comes to things that do have set limits (laundry, holiday preparations, taxes). So, set goals. If you start falling behind, that should help pressure you toward writing. If you get ahead, it gives you leeway to not feel guilt or worry because you spent two hours weeding, reading, or just relaxing.
At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.
WordPress suggested these related links, in case you’re interested:
- R.I.P. Procrastination… (thatotherjenn.wordpress.com)
- Using Commitment Devices to Overcome Procrastination (sylvialiuland.com)
- Procrastination as a positive productivity strategy (andrewgelman.com)
- I really should stop procrastinating (myorbit365.wordpress.com)
- You Are Sucha Procrastinator! (katewoodauthor.wordpress.com)