Cures for Procrastinators in One Minute Flat

Why is getting started often the hardest problem that writers face?

Today, I piddled around with journaling, reading blogs, watering flowers, some marketing…all the while “getting ready” to write. But by noon, I hadn’t written Word One.

There was no real reason for me to be unfocused. I felt fine, ate a healthy breakfast, had a lovely phone chat with my preschool granddaughter about our thunderstorm, cleaned the kitchen and straightened the living room. I was then ready to write…but I didn’t.

What Gives?

When I started writing umpteen years ago, I had babies and toddlers underfoot, lived on a farm, wrote a lot, and moved at lightning speed, multi-tasking before it was a word. I had no patience at all with writers like the one I’ve become: the writing procrastinators.

Back then, I had no time to procrastinate. If I didn’t write during the hour the kids napped, I didn’t get to write. I was in my office typing within a minute of tucking in the last child. No time to waste!

Times Change

No need to rush about so much now; hence, the problem. So what to do? Thankfully, I’m an avid collector of writing and writing-related books. I knew there was an answer to my problem somewhere on my shelves. And there was!

I pulled out a promising title: The 60 Second Procrastinator: Sixty Solid Techniques to Jump-Start Any Project and Get Your Life in Gear! by Jeff Davidson. The back of the book claims that “you can bust procrastination in one minute flat!” It’s a little book, but judging by the turned-down corners and the colored sticky tabs poking out from its pages, it is full of great ideas I’ve used in the past!

The author says “procrastination is a nasty habit and facilitated by distractions.” No argument there! Mr. Davidson also says: “Whenever you let progress on lower-level tasks or projects stand in the way of higher-level tasks or projects, you are procrastinating–you got that? Procrastination…is a recurring response to all that is competing for your attention.”

Lower level tasks? Yard work, email, lunch out, my favorite mystery. Higher level tasks? Writing, marketing, researching, attending critique group. But how do we shift our priorities to those “higher level” tasks?

Tried and True

Time for some of those one-minute solutions! I turned to the first dog-eared page, then the next, then the next. I remembered these ideas! They were simple–but they worked for me.

While it was tempting to procrastinate and read all sixty of the procrastination-busting techniques, I stopped after three. I put them into practice instead. And wrote. Happily.

What about you? Do you have one “tried and true” technique you could share?

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Getting Your Ducks in a Row: Organization or Procrastination?

Some time ago one of Suzanne Lieurance’s email “Morning Nudges” hit me between the eyes, and I printed it out as a reminder.

I see this week that I need the same nudge again.

Maybe you do too.

Ducks on Parade

“People will tell you that before you start on any new venture it’s a good idea to get all your ducks in a row,” Suzanne said. “And that is good advice. However, have you ever known people who spend ALL their time getting their ducks in a row? Heck, they spend so much time doing this, they end up getting OTHER people’s ducks in a row, too. It’s as if they feel they’ll never be ready to start something new, something really BIG, something wonderful! They need to spend just a bit more time getting those ducks in a row, and THEN they’ll be ready. Yet, that time just never seems to come.”

Does that describe you? Sometimes it describes me.

Ducks Out of Control

Like these past months…I met two nonfiction book deadlines, finished a novel rough draft, taught a workshop, and did several critiques. Now I’m facing a massive revision of a novel that grew all out of proportion. I hardly know where to start. So in order to clear the decks for some serious writing, I decided to take a week to get all my miscellaneous ducks in a row.

I had a marketing duck, a website update duck, a critique duck, a newsletter, and a research duck. (I also had several grandchild visits–very cute ducklings.) The writing ducks popped out of line repeatedly, but after fifty hours I got them lined up.

And now I’m facing next Monday with no excuses. The ducks are in a row. There is time to write. Now what? I find myself noticing other little ducks  swimming out of line. (e.g. I really should clean my office first because I work much better in a clean office. I really should go to the gym for my stiff back and the eye doctor for new computer glasses. I really should visit the scene of my novel again and take better photos. So many ducks–so little time!)

The Procrastination Duck

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. Yes, it’s important to get your ducks in a row. You don’t want to dive into a project half prepared. You waste precious time that way–and turn out shoddy writing.

But when does organizing cross the line into procrastination? There’s a point where we’re just putting off the inevitable–that blank page or revision that panics us. Only you can tell for yourself. What signs let you know that you’re crossing the line–and it’s time to bite the bullet?

Quack, Quack!

Before we can sit down and write, we all have certain ducks we need to have lined up. For some, it’s a super clean desk. For others, it’s doing the dishes and starting the laundry. For still others, it’s certain rituals that need to be in place.

At what point, though, do you tell yourself that “enough is enough”? I’d love to hear what works for you!

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Five Stages of Procrastination

How is procrastination like a bridge you set on fire yourself? According to Neil Fiore in The Now Habit, it’s similar to a situation where we scare ourselves into being frozen.

Fiore says to imagine a very long flat board on the ground in front of you, and then imagine walking on it to the other end of the board. Piece of cake, right?

Then he says imagine raising that board 100 feet off the ground, reaching from one tall building to another. Imagine walking across it again. You don’t skip light-heartedly across now, do you? You worry about falling to your death–and you don’t even take one step.

Then, in the third scenario, he says to imagine you smell smoke and feel heat on your back. You turn, and the building you stand on is in flames. You’ll die if you don’t get moving. What do you do now? Without even thinking, you get across that board. You might crawl, you might sit down and scooch across, but you get across to avoid being burned to a crisp.

That’s procrastination in a nutshell. Here’s how:

Five Predictable Stages

  1. You let a task determine your self-worth. You think being successful at this writing task or goal will make you happy. You think your self-worth as a writer is wrapped up in this project.
  2. You use perfectionism to raise the task 100 feet above the ground–like the imaginary board above. “You demand that you do it perfectly–without anxiety, with complete acceptance from your audience, with no criticism,” says Fiore.
  3. You find yourself frozen with anxiety. Your imaginary difficulties with the project raise your stress level. Adrenaline kicks in. You seek temporary relief.
  4. You use procrastination to escape your self-created dilemma. This brings the deadline closer and creates more pressure. You delay starting so long that you can’t really be tested on your actual writing ability (what you are capable of if you’d started sooner).
  5. You use a real threat to jar you loose from the perfectionism and motivate yourself to begin. The deadline, fast approaching, acts as the fire in the building in the opening example. It forces you to get moving and actually begin the writing.

 Breaking the Cycle

The author of this terrific book then takes you back to the top of that building and asks you to imagine still being frozen as you face walking across that board. Then he says to imagine NO fire, but instead a strong, supportive net just three feet beneath the board. It stretches all the way to the other building. There is no danger.

How do you create such a writing safety net? His suggestions in the remainder of the book show you how. Stay tuned for some ideas that work!

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Finding Writing Freedom

Within the last month, I’ve switched over from XP to a Windows 8 laptop with wireless Internet. It has been a wonderful, eye-opening change!

YouTube videos and movies no longer stick, break up, or freeze. I can access the Internet in any room of the house—or even when away on trips. I can check frequently on Facebook to see new videos and photos of my beautiful grandkids. And I could decide to answer “just one more email question” before going to bed.

Therein lies the problem.

Addicted? Who, Me?

I never had a tremendous amount of sympathy for writers who couldn’t seem to stay off the Internet long enough to get their reading, writing, and studying done. How hard could it be really? Well, this past month I found that it’s a lot harder to leave alone than I thought! Having dinosaur dial-up and then a pokey DSL line had been my biggest productivity friend, I think.

While I love the new computer—and it would have been so welcome when writing a couple of nonfiction books that required much research—its high-tech capabilities are causing trouble.

Enter Freedom!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have so much willpower to spare that I want to spend it fighting the Internet. And yet computers—with Internet access—are here to stay. So I did what my youngest daughter grilled into my head. Her answer to everything is “Google it!” So I did.

And I found a fabulous “block the Internet” download called Freedom. For a mere ten dollars (and there’s a free trial if you’d like to try it first), you get instant willpower. It buys you freedom to focus by blocking your Internet access! You can set the “block” for any amount of time, from fifteen minutes to 24 hours. You can set schedules for different days of the week if you like, and then you write.

I love the app. I would pay more for it, if necessary. (And I don’t part with my money easily!) I noticed this morning as I set the timer (on both my computers) for three hours of blocking, there was a wonderful sense of peace. There wasn’t the withdrawal I expected. Instead—and this will sound so anti-social—there was such a feeling of “no one can get to me for three hours—it’s my time to just write!”

And so I did.


Nothing makes us feel like writers more than writing. And nothing makes me feel like a successful writer more than having a very productive writing day. Freedom gives me that!

How about you? Do you need some writing freedom too? And do you have a favorite time-saving or willpower-producing tip?

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Writers: Practice What You Preach

I got home late last night from the Highlights Foundation’s “Sharing Our Hope” workshop, where I did a lot of preaching about the importance of self-care for writers and how absolutely critical it is to our writing lives.

We had a marvelous time together and forged new friendships. Even so, after “giving out” for several days, I’m exhausted this morning and slightly under the weather.

Stop! Stop! Stop!

I started right in on my to-do list, which managed to grow considerably even when I was gone. But I felt over-whelmed. Then my own voice came back to me from a talk on Saturday on self-care for writers. The voice was clear: “Practice what you preach!”

So I read some of my own blog posts and reminded myself of a few things I already knew. Thanks to “Mood-Dependent Writing Stages,” I have decided to tackle some rote-writing and prewriting tasks that need to be done. They won’t require nearly so much psychic energy as what I had planned to do.

And after re-reading “Writer Diagnosis: Failure to Thrive,” I saw how I could get from “languishing” to “flourishing” today. I needed that middle step–nourishing–in a couple of different areas. I plan to actually DO them!

Do What You Already Know

I think today’s writers are some of the most educated writers ever seen. But we’re not especially good at doing what we know is the wisest thing to do.

I am guilty of that too frequently. At least for today, I’m going to change that! 

By any chance, is there some area of your writing life where you “know better,” but you also need to follow through? Be brave and leave a comment!

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