As a writer, I can tell you that procrastination is the bane of my existence. It seems like only recently we have acquired a word for it, but in reality, it’s been around since forever and it’s been plaguing writers everywhere.
It’s difficult to ignore it, isn’t it? You start out the day with a writing goal clearly established and an unmovable determination to achieve your goal by the end of it. But meanwhile, something happens – or, more accurately, lots of little things keep happening – and you keep putting off your work, in favor of doing something else.
The most common “offender” is aimless internet browsing, when you should be doing research or writing. You start off by looking for something relevant to your topic, and somehow, you find yourself, three hours later, lost in the depths of “the weird part of YouTube”. It’s happened to the best of us, but you can put a stop to this useless, unproductive and time-consuming habit with the help of a few tips.
#1: Turn your internet off – I know, it seems extreme, but the internet is the number one instigator, when it comes to procrastination. You tell yourself you’re just going to casually browse something “quickly” or check your email, but we all know that this is never true. By staying away from it altogether, you’re doing yourself a huge favor, because you eliminate the temptation to see if your favorite sites have been updated.
Things get more complicated when you need access to the internet in order to do research. Those are the moments when you have to practice some self-control and avoid the websites that usually suck you in. Limit yourself strictly to what is of interest for your work. Think about it like this: if you were at the office, you wouldn’t be able to browse the internet for personal reasons on company time. Stick to work-related stuff.
#2: Set time limits for yourself – It’s a lot more difficult to get distracted when you set a strict deadline and stick to it. Even if you have the whole day free ahead of you, set a time restriction. The worst thing you can do is allow yourself to drag one assignment for an entire day, while you waste time doing other things. Respect yourself and your time and do your best to finish in the allotted time frame.
This is something that works for me, because I find that I work better under pressure. The rush of adrenaline that a tight deadline generates in me really motivates me to be more efficient, if only because of the fear of missing my deadline and getting in trouble. Reinforce this fake deadline by setting an alarm or something for yourself. If the alarm goes off and you haven’t finished, it means that you’ve failed to do your job on time. It doesn’t hurt to train yourself to be productive and efficient.
#3: Minimize distractions – Of course you can’t get any work done if you keep getting distracted! When you work from home, everything around you is a potential distraction. Your housemates drop in for a chat, your pet needs to be fed, your phone rings, you make another cup of coffee, you need to run out and buy more milk, and so many other small or bigger distractions come between you and actual productivity.
Don’t sabotage yourself; find a place where you can work without being interrupted or distracted. You can’t finish your work if you keep stopping for one reason or another, so a quiet corner where you can be alone and work in peace is crucial for your productivity and success as a writer. Creative flow is important, so make sure you build the proper environment for it.
#4: Be well-rested – Yup, you heard me. This one took me a while to figure out, but at some point, I just came to the conclusion that I am way less likely to be able to power through a task and finish it in a timely manner when I haven’t had enough sleep. When you’re tired, your brain unfortunately betrays you. It may be slower, more distracted, or just not able to concentrate enough to get the job done.
I’ve had really simple writing jobs that I just could not get done because I was so tired. Don’t fool yourself by thinking that if you cut on sleep and get up earlier, you will have more time to get the job done or you’ll be more productive. You’re only increasing your chances of falling asleep on the keyboard and waking up with QWERTY embedded backwards on your face. You have been warned!
#5: Create an outline beforehand – We all know that when it comes to creative work, you can’t always rely on inspiration hitting in a major way. Ideally, the writing would pour out of your keyboard and you’d be done faster than you’d imagined. Sadly, that’s rarely the case and there are times when you spend hours slamming your head against a wall trying to squeeze out a measly couple hundred words.
What I have found helps me, when I am confronted with topics that I may not easily find sources or inspiration for, is to create an outline, before I start writing. Basically, I try to have an idea of what I am going to write and how many words it will come around to. This makes it easier for you to assess how long it will take and whether or not you have to spend more time on research.
Of course, these are just a few tips that I have found to be effective for me, personally. They may or may not help you – I’m hoping they will! – or you might have some very effective methods of your own. Because we work with (daily) deadlines, procrastination is our sweetest friend and our most bitter enemy, at the same time. Find what works for you and keep fighting the good fight for productivity.