How to Stop Procrastinating: 5 Foolproof Methods for Writers

How to Stop Procrastinating: 5 Foolproof Methods for Writers

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.

how to stop procrastinating

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?

Filed Under: Craft
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32 comments

  • Seriously?
    The advice for avoiding procrastination in writing is to do household chores??

    Much better advice would be to get off the internet.

    • Alicia Dara says:

      Hi, Andreas! I’ve including “getting off the internet” in my 5th paragraph (and linked to a separate list of ways to block distractions there as well). I suggested doing 30 minutes of household chores ONLY “If you absolutely, positively cannot sit in front of your desk for a moment longer…” You’ll notice I used the word “productive”. Sometimes the body refuses to settle down and work until it has expressed some kind of physical action. When this happens it’s helpful to try 30 minutes of productive work. Accomplishing a positive action in 30 minutes can set us up for accomplishing some good writing. And as we’re working our minds often drift around and free up some space for fresh ideas and inspiration to come through. I’ve seen this method work wonders with my clients 🙂

      • Louise Blank says:

        All good points Alicia! Some of my greatest ideas have surfaced while plunging my hands into a sink full of soapy dish water. Our minds by nature do not like clutter. I believe that when we nurture our surroundings it clears the path to our creativity. The number one thing that significantly improved my focus is meditation and second is exercise.

      • Linda H. says:

        I agree. When I have trouble writing, I empty the dishwasher or clean up my kitchen. During that time my mind roams about the topic and I suddenly find inspiration and go back to writing. I’m twice as productive that way. Another thing I’ve started doing is work out about 10 minutes. I also read years ago that washing your hands helps release new ideas and thoughts. I works! Sometimes I have the cleanest hands at a keyboard.

        Especially loved the purrcatstination choice from you 15 Ways Every Writer Procrastinates. With 3 cats, it’s a bullseye.

        Great ideas for thwart procrastination. I’ll put them all to work this week and then check my productivity. Should be fun!

    • Jody says:

      It’s actually a very good suggestion. Doing a mindless task allows your mind to wander and it’s amazing the insights you’ll suddenly have for your writing!

  • Jayne says:

    I like your idea of doing some research probably because that’s what I did this morning. I really didn’t feel like writing, so I figured if I at least read and wrote down some facts, I’d feel a little productive.

    I also find a good walk helps because I “write” as I walk.

    • Alicia Dara says:

      Hi, Jayne! I also use walk to loosen things up in my brain, and I know that Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon have talked about their “plot walks” in interviews. I can’t prove it, but I suspect that being outside, inhaling nature and listening to its sounds, also has some kind of positive effect 🙂

  • Bernadette Ignacio says:

    THANK YOU ALICIA! These tips are fantastic. I especially appreciate the meditation on subject bit. Breathing into and with your subject is so helpful, and literally adds spirit into your work. Thanks again for sharing!

  • JoAnn says:

    I always check my schedule and submission status when I first sit down to the computer to work. I find the days that I do laundry, while working, are most productive. I will also, go outside and sit for about 30 minutes (away from the computer). This gets my creative juices flowing.

  • Anne says:

    Taking a break from writing to do a mindless task sounds great! Also, the time to research subjects to include in your writing project is excellent! I found I was doing some of those things but as you said tackling something like going through the Master Bedroom clothes closet could turn out to be a very long task and wouldn’t do for the break. Meditating is something I’ll also include. Thanks!

  • Kim says:

    Keep notepaper handy if you try tip #5! I started laundry today when I was having trouble getting to work and had to bolt back to my desk to capture ideas. I’ve noticed that I need to move around when I can’t settle into my work. Sometimes I do a few minutes of yoga before starting my writing for the day. For me it’s moving meditation, and lots more fun than housework.

    • Alicia Dara says:

      That’s great, Kim! When I’m writing songs I depend on laundry breaks to keep my mind unstuck and flowing. When I’m blogging I often set a timer and challenge myself to cram as much into that time as I can, bribing myself to stay focused by putting a snack on the kitchen counter. Knowing it’s there waiting for me is a great motivator (I’m like my dog in this way 😉 I should do an entire blog post about snacks! http://www.aliciadara.com/blog/

  • Leyla says:

    My favorite tip is meditation. I find if I start my morning with a minimum of 10-15 minutes of Zen meditation (completely clearing your mind), versus waiting until I’ve started my day, I’m much more “in the moment” and productive. Procrastination has its roots in projecting into the future – not wanting to face something in the future. When you’re “in the moment”, you’re calmer and more productive.

    • Alicia Dara says:

      Hi, Leyla! Meditation is a great skill, one that I believe we should be teaching in elementary schools (along with the benefits of naps and snacks 😉 I occasionally use meditation with my young students and am always amazed at how well it works to help them focus afterward, as you mentioned in your comment. More support for artists on my blog: http://www.aliciadara.com/blog/

  • Todd says:

    Alicia, that is some really good stuff. No one has ever recommended, that I have seen, using the dryer or washer as a timer, and timers are great for us procrastinators with ADD or Aspy. There are other good things in there that are great. Thank you.

  • Eleksie says:

    Wow this couldn’t come at better time. I was actually having a problem concentrating when I decided to check my mail and saw these tips. Am really having a problem concentrating nowadays. Could you please tell me more about creating a spreadsheet work schedule I think that would help me. I also noticed I spend a lot more time doing research.

  • Great points Alicia I too practice most of them.

  • Sarah Cox says:

    I set an egg timer for 10 minutes and then go do any number of things. When the alarm sounds, I sit down to write. Even if it’s horrible, I just keep writing. Within a few minutes or an hour, my love of words seems to kick in and I’m able to get back on track. After the first draft, I reward myself with a short walk to clear my head before I tackle the second draft. Sometimes I have to remind myself that no one is going to continue paying me if I don’t produce something worthwhile. That scares me enough to make me sit down and type.

  • Alicia Dara says:

    Thanks for the mention on your very cool blog, Yesenia! My blog contains more support for artists, love to hear your comments and questions: http://www.aliciadara.com/blog/

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