We’ve all been there: sitting up straight at your desk, computers on or notebooks open, your eyes bright and your intentions set.
Yet somehow you can’t quite bring yourselves to start making words appear on the page. Some tiny, squiggling temptation is pulling on you like gravity, and you lunge for it almost without thinking.
Suddenly you’re off on a social media binge, or a coffee run, or a texting frenzy with friends. You may or may not be conscious of how much time it takes to go on these tangents, but you sure do feel lousy when you’ve used up all our writing time to do them!
The world is full of endless distractions that can derail your dreams, but you can establish some procrastination-busting habits to have ready when needed.
You already know about blocking distractions like social media and email and removing any objects of temptation like books, magazines, and other forms of print media not essential to your current writing project.
Here are five ways to outwit procrastination and jump-start your productivity:
1. Check your production schedule and review past work
At the beginning of your writing session, take a few deep breaths and review the production schedule for your latest project.
Look back on your previous work session and give yourself credit for what you achieved. The greatest predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and you’re making good progress! Remind yourself you have a history of getting down to work and meeting deadlines.
Think of all the words that filled up inside you and spilled over into your work, and remember what a great joy it is to feel that! Now look ahead at your upcoming deadlines. Visualize yourself meeting them, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with that action.
Feel the words filling up inside you again, open your project, and go!
2. Do some research about your subject
Procrastination can be an expression of anxiety.
Are you not as sure of your subject as you thought you were? Do you need a way into the piece, but can’t seem to find the right angle? Set a timer and dive into some dedicated research for 30 minutes.
Make a list of six new facts that you could use in your piece. You can also ask some new questions, and get help from new sources. Who are the experts in the field? What’s the latest iteration of your subject, and what is the outlook for its future? Make a simple timeline of your subject’s history, and add some important highlights as they happened on the journey.
Step back and look at your work: does anything in particular catch your eye? Is there an unsolved mystery staring you in the face? Go for it!
3. Warm up with something easy
We all have writing tasks that support our writing. Usually this comes in the form of organizational tools like your production schedule, which helps you stay focused and manage deadlines.
You could also start a Google spreadsheet to keep track of your submissions. Make an extra column called “Expectations,” which refers to your editor’s expectations of you once the piece is published — usually it’s about interacting with commenters, and answering any questions about the piece.
When’s the last time you checked the comments on your published pieces?
You can clean up your cloud writing sites, like Evernote or Ulysses, and make sure everything is properly catalogued with dates.
One last idea: Make a list of 10 blog topics that inspire you to write, even if they have nothing to do with your current subject.
Just get the juices flowing and set yourself free on your piece.
4. Meditate on your subject
A regular meditation practice can work wonders for your writing by clearing out a space for your inner voice to make itself known. Sometimes you just need to quiet all other thoughts and let your words come to you in whatever form they desire, without constraints or edits.
Many of my clients tell me that once they begin meditating regularly their writing sessions flow much more smoothly, and they face less procrastination overall.
You can do a simple meditation by sitting comfortably in a chair, closing your eyes, and focusing on your breathing.
Count slowly to four on your inhale, and again on your exhale. Do this for awhile until you feel your breathing calm a bit, then start counting to five on your inhale and exhale, then six, and so on.
In the spaces between breaths, visualize a blank page. What words appear there? Don’t worry if they don’t make sense right away. Just allow them to form and settle on the page. They might have nothing to do with your current project, or they might just be the key that unlocks the entire thing!
You can also use them as a prompt for your writing session if you’re still stuck. Keep a small notebook of words that appear during your meditations, and refer to it occasionally when you need a boost.
5. Do a simple household task for 30 minutes
If you absolutely, positively cannot sit in front of your desk for a moment longer, get up and be productive for 30 minutes.
Look around your space: How can you cleanse, clear, or organize it? Set a timer and keep it near you, and obey when it rings.
Don’t start a giant project that involves strong emotions, like cleaning out your clothes closet! Make quick, utilitarian choices. Clean the bathroom, take out the garbage and recycling, or wash all the dishes and wipe down the sink. Clean your computer screen and keyboard.
Laundry is a good choice, because it’s a time-limited task regulated by machines. You can put a load in and scrub down the bathroom while it washes. Put it in the dryer and return to your writing session — you can fold and sort everything when the session is done.
While you’re cleaning, keep your mind on your subject, and let new thoughts and ideas float around freely. Perform a task that ends with a feeling of accomplishment, and take that feeling back to your writing.
Which of these anti-procrastination methods are you most eager to try?