Procrastination, a Writer’s Tool

Procrastination is my middle name. Okay, not really. Some people would say I have writer’s block. I disagree. Procrastination is a writer’s tool. Or it can be.

Image of a street sign "procrastination" atop a stop sign.

Writer’s Block vs Tool

About a year ago I wrote a post about writer’s block and how its individual. Each writer who experiences it gets their own individual flavor. I thought that procrastination was a symptom of writer’s block. That’s one way to describe it, but I think it’s a negative way to describe it.

Wrong Turn

Writing is part cerebral and part dreaming. One part can freeze up while the other part keeps marching onward. The words pile up on the page and are a cerebral work or fragments of dream-like images that have no interconnectedness. You read back the words and don’t have any idea where you were headed. When this happens to me, it’s a sign that I’ve turned down a one-way, dead-end street. Most of the time I don’t recognize it. There are no street signs that warn me.

That’s when procrastination is a tool. Procrastination is my writing tool, whether or not I want it to be.

Procrastination 

If you do a Google search, “Is Procrastination bad” you’ll get more than nine million results. Articles will tell you procrastination is bad, good, a potential sig of a health problem, and everything in between. 

PsychCentral provides a balanced list of ten reasons it’s bad and ten reasons it’s good.

Is Procrastination a Habit

Being a caregiver, my days are irregular. Caregiving happens in snatches of activity throughout the day. I usually get an hour or two at a time during which I can work.

Most days I can sit down at my desk and turn on the words. My burst of creativity is relatively short. An hour or two or maybe half a day. Occasionally, it can be quite a bit longer—but not as a routine.

image of a desktop with an open book, an open laptop  and a cup of coffee
wish my desk were this neat

Some days, maybe even most days, include a little bit of procrastination. That would include looking at some numbers, getting my desk set up just so, and drinking a cup or two of coffee. So yes, some of it is probably a habit. But there’s a time when it’s also a tool.

When Procrastination Hits

On the days I’ve hit the dead end, my attention span is that of a gnat. I can’t seem to focus—on anything.

Today I watched America’s Got Talent (AGT) videos on YouTube. A single piece of music and a story of someone actively working on their dream often gets me writing. Today, after the AGT video finished, the next video that played was unusual. I watched John Edwards do psychic readings of audience members. Screech. Full stop. What did I do?

Do I Believe in Psychics? 

Yes and no. I’m skeptical but not cynical. I believe rare people have special talents. Are they psychic? Hm. That’s a discussion for another day. I need to get back to writing.

What does a psychic reading have to do with writing? Does it mean I should add a psychic to my story? Don’t worry—I’m not going there in this story. 

What Good is Procrastination?

So what did I get from watching two unique types of things? People’s story. Snippets of real people’s lives—their grief, their hopes and joy, and their pain. And that’s what stories are made of. No, I won’t use any of those people’s stories in the second book of the Fellowship Dystopia. But both AGT and the psychic readings reminded me of things people do when they have hope and what they do when they have pain. People who go to a psychic go because they need to work through their grief. They think (or hope) if their loved one is okay, that they’ll be okay. It’s usually not that simple. Perhaps that’s what my subconscious (some would say my muse) wanted me to remember. Life isn’t simple.

Did Procrastination Work?

I may never know exactly why I needed to watch those two things today. But I know that when my inner writer had heard enough, the video got turned off, and the words started coming.

As a writer, I’ve learned to listen to my subconscious. Procrastination is a tool, a writer’s tool for me. Procrastination can work, but you can’t let it distract you so much that you get nothing done. Will it work for you? I don’t know. But if you’re a creative, listen to your subconscious. It will tell you what you need.

A Time and Place for Procrastination

Hi. My name is Lynette. I’m a procrastinator. I get high learning new things. Jumping onto the internet for one bit of research and following one link to another link to another is more fun than falling down a rabbit hole. Doing repetitive chores—not so exciting. Chances are, you are a procrastinator also. Will you ever stop being a procrastinator? No. It’s part of human nature. But there are ways to reprogram yourself. Ways to avoid procrastinating what you want and need to get done.

Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

Research has shown that people who have seen a digitally aged picture of themselves save more money. The theory is that having seen their older self, they can imagine being old. That motivates them to save for that day.

What if you’re already retired or saving for retirement? Visualization can be your path to productivity. Visualize what finishing the task would look and feel like. If you’re an artist, draw that image. If you use Pinterest, find an image that illustrates your success. Take a photograph. Write a description using specific details. Make it real, instead of something vague.

Nothing More than Feelings

Have a task you always put-off? Notice what you are feeling when you procrastinate. Record those feelings and which tasks they revolve around. At the end of a week or a month, look at what you’ve documented. Find the patterns. Identify the feelings you associate with that task. 

Are you tired and can’t concentrate? Perhaps you need to do this task at the time of day when you’re most awake and productive. 

Ask yourself why. Why do you not want to do this thing? Explore your feelings. 

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Gamification turns your boring, dreaded work into a game. Like using a fitness tracker, you earn badges and rewards for each level of accomplishment. The idea is if you consistently reward yourself for the job you put-off you will learn to enjoy the work.

You can use an app to gamify your task. Available apps include Habitica (Apple and Android), Epic Win (Apple and Android), LifeRPG (Android only), Task Hammer (Android only), and SuperBetter (apple & Android). Each app has different features and prices. (I have not used any of these nor am I an affiliate for any of them).

You can also use your own personal way to gamify the task. Use a spreadsheet to track your progress. For example, you achieve x within a certain amount of time, you get 15 minutes of play on your favorite online game. Your rewards increase for increased productivity. 

A Time and Place to Procrastinate

Give yourself permission to procrastinate. But keep it under your control. Use a timer. Schedule a day or half-day for procrastination. Many experts recommend taking procrastination away from your regular work area. So when procrastination overcomes you, go into another room. Train your brain to not associate procrastination with your work. Except when it’s taking out the garbage. That one, you’ll need to gamify the heck out of. 

Procrastination, Procrastination Go Away

No, no matter what techniques you use or how much you gamify your life and work, you won’t stop procrastinating. Forgive yourself. Give a time and place for your procrastination. Find the tools to be productive in spite of the falling into the occasional rabbit hole.

Warning! 10 Signs You’ve Pushed Too Hard

Sometimes, there is no Kaboom, no catastrophe that derails your plan. Sometimes you simply push yourself too hard, you ignore the warning signs that you’ve pushed too hard.

Maybe you’re like me and over-committed yourself to classes, a day job, writing, blogging, and other activities. Perhaps you had a sudden, unexpected health problem. Or you’ve simply gotten worn down by the day-to-day things that get under your skin. Now you barely have the energy to get through the day. Or you’ve caught the current flu bug or cold and you can’t seem to get over it. Your body and mind say ENOUGH.

I found myself in that position at the end of January. For six months I pushed myself, working 12- 15 hour days every day of the week. It was an invigorating time. I was learning new things, doing new, fascinating, and highly enjoyable things. I accomplished a ton. Then, I completed the last big project and my brain and body went WHOA. I should have paid attention to the warning signs. Do you know the warning signs that you need a break?

Warning Signs You’ve Pushed Too Hard:

  • Your Productivity Declines – you put in more hours, yet get less and less done.
  • You Don’t Have Time – for a favor, a commitment, a date with your friend or sweetheart, or even for your cherished indulgences.
  • You Forget – to eat, an appointment, where you put that report or your keys.
  • Things Are Out of Control – you’re always late; your normally neat desk is a mess; the dirty dishes are mutating in the sink; the stacks of bills or laundry (or both) are quickly becoming a mountain you can’t climb.
  • Lack of Focus or Creativity – you flit from one task to the next, never finishing and never find a solution; you struggle to come up with new ideas, solutions to problems, or how to express an idea.
  • Loss of Joy – you are beginning to dread tasks that normally you find enjoyable.
  • Sleep Issues – you can’t sleep; can’t stay asleep, or you want to do nothing but sleep.
  • Irritability – you snap at loved ones unjustly; you find yourself ‘just one more stupid driver’ short of total road rage.
  • Health Issues – you have migraines or stomach problems on a daily basis; your acne, arthritis or asthma flares more frequently.
  • Warnings from Friends and Family – you haven’t talked in weeks; your significant other tiptoes around the house afraid to disturb you; friends and family tell you that you’re always busy, or they sit you down for an ‘intervention.’

You don’t want to know how up-close and personal I know all those warning signs. Really, you don’t. 🙂

But you do want to know what you can do when you recognize the warning signs in yourself.

Warning! 10 signs you're pushed too hard, lynettemburrows.com

Five Things to Do to Beat Stress:

  • Check Your Body
    Are you fatigued despite getting 7 or 8 hours of sleep? Is your urine dark? The first sign of dehydration is fatigue. Be certain to drink plenty of water every day.
    Is your resting heart rate up? Is your blood pressure up? If yes, be certain you get more sleep and more exercise. It’s not a matter of ‘when I can fit it in,’ it’s a matter of get it done or pay a price.
    Re-prioritize – take a day to look at what you want to accomplish.
  • Look hard at your list. Are there some things that really don’t need to be done right now? Put them aside. Are there some pieces of what you do that you can outsource? Hire a laundry lady or a housekeeper; have the secretary type up those letters, or you can ask your family to help with tasks for a while.
  • Make a new plan. Break the task into smaller chunks that are more manageable. Make goals that allow you time to do the next four items on this list.
  • Schedule Fun – do something you love. Even just one hour a week can help. Take a walk, a swim, a jog. Meditate. Listen to music. Watch a movie. Read a book.
  • Take time off – An hour, a day, a week or more. Do something entirely different, at a different pace. Give yourself permission to breathe, to laugh, to do absolutely nothing.

Self Care, a learned skill

Slowing down is not something I do willingly. I tend to be a bit (DH chimes in with “majorly!”) obsessive. I throw everything I’ve got into a project. I forget to sleep, to eat, to call friends and family. This is true not just for my writing or blogging, but of attention to my day job, household chores, whatever I want to ‘get done.’ I don’t seem to know how to pace myself. But, I’m learning.

If you push yourself too hard, something has got to give. Don’t be like me and let exhaustion make it impossible to work. Yes, there are times when an extra workload is needed. Just remember to listen: Listen to your body, your mind, your friends, and your family.

To my dear readers: Thank you all so very much for your kind thoughts and wishes for me. I have belatedly followed my own advice. I’ve made new goals and going forward from here.

Your readership means more to me than you can know. And when you take the time to leave a comment or two, I am thrilled and honored you’ve chosen to spend your valuable time with me.

What about you? Have you ever pushed yourself too hard? How did you recover?