One of the biggest challenges I face is just getting started. I’ll lay around all day, puttering with this and that, waiting until the absolute last minute to open up that Word document and start writing. But, once I finally sit down and spend ten minutes working on a piece, I usually get into the zone and focused. When I get into the work, it always seems so silly that it took me so long to get started. Even so, I know that I’ll still fall into the same procrastination routine time and time again.
Based on my conversations with other writers, I know that I’m not the only one who struggles with the procrastination beast, so I wanted to share a little trick that has been working for me lately.
I call this tip the “Productivity Train Method.”
I feel like half the battle of being a writer is managing all the stuff that goes on inside your head (e.g. self doubt, motivation, guilt etc.), so this method tries to address some of that. I don’t know about you, but when I’m procrastinating, it’s a bit of vicious cycle. It starts when I put off a task (i.e. writing) that will bring me long-term fulfillment, and instead I choose to do something that will bring me instant gratification and short-term fulfillment (i.e. watching YouTube videos). Then I feel guilty about procrastinating, which leads to self-doubt, which makes me want to do the work even less. Wash, rinse, repeat. Suddenly it’s midnight, and I realize that I’ve accomplished nothing with my day. Cue guilt and a wee bit of self-loathing–not two qualities that create a good mental space for creative work.
The Productivity Train Method is all about recovering some of that bad mental space that comes from procrastination. Is this method a mind game? Yes, 100%. But does it work? Also yes.
It goes like this:
When I’m in a procrastination mood and I find myself putting off my writing, I have a little talk with myself. I allow myself to put off writing for a limited time, but the procrastination has to be productive. I can’t spend four hours on YouTube. I have to tackle something else on my To-Do list. This can be writing related stuff, such as searching for places to submit or replying to emails. Or, it can be just regular life stuff, such as doing the dishes or doing laundry. I even consider reading a form of productive procrastination.
I find that completing these non-writing tasks still gives me a big sense of accomplishment. Maybe it’s a high that only my type-a personality experiences, but I love the satisfaction of crossing something off my to-do list. After completing other tasks, I find that I am in a much better head space to sit down and write. I know that I can complete a task (even if it’s a task that has nothing to do with writing), and it gives me that boast of confidence to approach my writing. This whole method is based on riding the momentum of completing other tasks all the way through my writing session.
In order for this method to work, you always need to come back to your writing. If you get too carried away doing all your other chores and never return to your writing, then all that momentum is wasted. I’ve been there way too many times, so I always make a plan and set a time to write again.
This method has been working really well for me, but it might not work for you, and that’s okay. Part of being a serious writer is being in tune with yourself. There’s lots of advice about how you should go about the act of writing, but I think it’s deeply personal and can look different than the “right way” of writing. Some would balk at the productivity train method, but it works for me so I hold onto it, but I also listen to myself and allow change. I know when productive procrastination will really help me and when it’s time to put my butt in the chair and write, regardless of motivation. It’s all about balance and being consistent. Figure out what makes you tick and build your writing practice around it.