10 ways to banish procrastination and get your writing mojo back
Updated: Aug 19, 2020
We all do it. I've had three cups of tea, applied hand cream, brought in the washing and gone in search of food (twice) since I turned on my computer and hit 'new post'.
According to the Telegraph, Brits spend almost four hours EVERY day avoiding the things they should really be doing. That's 1,460 hours per year, or just shy of 61 days. That's a lot of washing! In fact, that's more than double the average employee's annual holiday allowance!
What is procrastination, you ask. Let me Google that for you. Oh look, kittens! Sorry. According to procrastination.com, procrastination is: "trouble persuading yourself to do the things you should do or would like to do. When you procrastinate, instead of working on important, meaningful tasks, you find yourself performing trivial activities".
Now we know what it is, how do we stop doing it and regain our focus to do the task that we were avoiding in the first place? Here are my top tips:
1) Stop waiting for perfection.
Anything you do today is better than that perfect thing you never quite achieved. When it comes to writing, it's better out than in. Just get those words down on paper now and perfect them later.
2) Give yourself a good talking to.
According to Vincent Marshall, 'There finally comes a point where you have to say, "F**k it. If I am a writer, I need to write. No excuses."' Sorry about the language, but he's right. If you don't just crack on, you'll never get on.
3) Get rid of distractions.
OK, you probably can't get rid of your cat, but you can put away the video games/magazines/smart phone/remote control/whatever your chosen method of distraction is. This is like removing sharp objects from the reach of children: if it isn't there, they won't want it. Make sure your desk is tidy, too. Tidy desk = tidy mind.
4) Make lists and reward yourself.
Break down your mammoth task into, erm, baby mammoths; a list of things to do, today. It's far easier (and less daunting) to achieve something by doing it in bitesize chunks like this. For every little achievement, give yourself a little reward. A five minute break, perhaps, or a cuddle with your cat.
5) Allow yourself to procrastinate.
Procrastination isn't always a bad thing. If you are feeling tired or really overwhelmed by a task, give yourself a break. Staring at a blank screen won't help you either, and could actually make you feel more anxious. Instead, allow yourself a certain amount of time to do something pleasurable that you know will put you back in the right frame of mind; a walk, some yoga, some music, a chat with your mum. Forgive yourself for taking this time out, but know that you have to get back to it once that time elapses. Use the timer on your phone, if you must.
Often, when we stop thinking of the thing that is troubling us, an answer comes. According to Scientific American, 'insight and analysis are distinctly different processes in the brain', which means that we use a different thought process when we are actively trying to problem-solve than when we are just milling along doing something else.
6) Follow the two minute rule.
If it takes less than two minutes, do it now. For more details on this visit lifehack.org, but, the general gist is this: once you start doing something, it's easier to continue and, eventually, a habit forms. So one line of anything (My name is Kat, and I really need a holiday...) could lead you to write that final chapter.
7) Use writing prompts.
Instead of turning the TV on (again), if you really must do something other than the task in hand, try using a writing prompt.
Some of my best story ideas have come from writing prompts. The idea follows on from the two minute rule - once you start writing, something, anything, it will be easier to carry on. This doesn't just work for creative writing, it can work for business and academic writing, too, just by getting your brain thinking about words. Something as simple as 'What can you see outside the window right now?' can really get you started.
There's a prompt for every day of the year over at think written. Give one a try and see if it helps.
8) Speak to a colleague/mentor/expert
If you really can't get into what you're meant to be doing, have a chat with someone who understands it (a fellow writer, an expert in the field, your boss) and might be able to offer a little nugget of knowledge that will really make things click for you.
9) Speak to an innocent.
Similarly, speaking to someone who knows absolutely ZERO about what you're doing (your five year old niece, your nan, the neighbour over the fence) can also help. Sometimes, a naïve question or innocent comment can just get you thinking differently and give you the answer you've been looking for.
10) Just do it!
If you're avoiding a task because you just don't want to do it, it's going to hang over you and make you feel stressed/anxious/guilty every day until it's done. For your own mental health, just do it! And then you can Google kittens to your heart's content.
How do you stop yourself procrastinating? Answers on a postcard, or in the comments below.