Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Dubious Art of Procrastination

"Procrastination is something best put off until tomorrow." ~Gerald Vaughan

A fellow writer asked recently when I would write an essay about settling on one Work In Progress instead of just piddling around with four. *grin* Thanks for the topic, Celia!

Ah, procrastination. I could do a week of essays on that particular subject but I think I'll wait. *wink*

Truth is, while it seems like a joke, the urge to avoid tasks, whether they be pleasurable or onerous, strikes us all. Dr. Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, identifies three basic types of procrastinators.

• Thrill seekers—those who put off tasks until the deadline is breathing down their necks. Like a race-car driver careening towards the finish line, these procrastinators thrive on the adrenalin rush.

• Avoiders—these procrastinators often fear not measuring up. Their self-worth is dependent on the opinions of others. Better to be thought of as someone who is simply missing a deadline or not reaching potential than possibly being seen as mediocre or worse yet a failure.

• 'Decisional procrastinators'—those who balk at the fork in the road. Fearing the consequences of the wrong decision means they feel safer not making any decision at all.

I've definitely qualified for an avoider (oh, those self-esteem issues!), yet more often it's the fork in the road where I balk. This is why writing the first draft is such a white-knuckle challenge while the revisions are a delight. By now, 'The Dreaded Decisions' are far behind me so the focus can be directed towards the delicious crafting of words. Whew!

"I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence but it comes from within. It is there all the time." ~ Anna Freud

Now for those addicted to the adrenalin rush, the real question is: "Do I thrive on this crisis-oriented energy or does it lead to excessive stress?"

Obviously, if you are a race car driver, the rush is truly a thrill. However, if you find that you get antsy when there's a lull or realize that for some darn reason your life is always bursting with one crisis or another it might be time to re-examine your focus. Being addicted to adrenalin can mean that you seek out situations or relationships that keep you on edge. It can lead to slap-dash work where you whip out a blog or knock out edits in record time but miss numerous typos that are glaringly obvious to others.

For avoiders and 'decisional' procrastinators, one major revelation is this—the avoided task will haunt you and burn up more hours than the tasks you actually finish. We'll put so much energy into justifying the avoidance that in the end we may end up truly exhausted without accomplishing a thing! Argh.

"Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task." ~William James

So here's one tip right off the bat. If you're stuck in a procrastination phase, at the very least push the avoidance from the unconscious (which leads us to play computer games, seek out snacks, chat on the phone, etc.) to the conscious. What I mean by this is Deliberately Procrastinate and Choose To Accomplish Something Else. Tackle the bathtub that needs cleaning or clear off the clutter from your desk. Answer correspondence or go through the mail. However, do set a time limit on your avoidance. One hour or perhaps one day. First off, you'll feel loads better if you've accomplished something positive instead of playing solitaire, plus seeing that sparkling tub or clutter-free desk can lift your spirits considerably.

"Some people plant in the spring and leave in the summer. If you're signed up for a season, see it through. You don't have to stay forever, but at least stay until you see it through." --Jim Rohn

Next tip: Just Do It.

"To think too long about doing a thing often becomes its undoing." ~Eva Young

This is where you're getting sneaky with your Self. Just like a mom might puree veggies to get finicky kids to eat (nothing new, my mom used the blender to whip together carrots and mushrooms to add to the stew), we might need to take steps to jump over the avoidance hurdle and hit the ground running.

One secret is simply, don't think about it. Just Do It.


Whether it's writing, exercising, or cleaning, the more we anticipate doing something we're avoiding, the more time we have to talk ourselves out of it. Tell yourself instead that you will begin writing at This Time O'clock and when the appointed minute rolls around, sit down without thinking about it and begin work.

"The great composer does not set to work because he is inspired, but becomes inspired because he is working. Beethoven, Wagner, Bach and Mozart settled down day after day to the job in hand with as much regularity as an accountant settles down each day to his figures. They didn't waste time waiting for inspiration." ~Ernest Newman

If you're trying to decide between ideas or manuscripts and you absolutely cannot choose one based on preference, jot down working titles or even numbers on strips of paper, put them in a hat and draw one. Work only on that one for a specific amount of time. You can give yourself a week or a month or whatever works for you. Sometimes knowing you 'only' have to focus for a particular length of time gives you a psychological out. Honestly, could we ever convince ourselves to exercise if there was no time limit? But knowing you 'only' have to bike for five minutes or a half-hour gives you a finish line. Give yourself a finish line even if it's only a stopping point.

"If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it." ~Olin Miller

"We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once." ~Calvin Coolidge

Most importantly, be as kind and supportive to yourself as you are to others. Many of us fall into a habit of self-criticism, berating ourselves for what we don't accomplish rather than being supportive. If your good friend said she felt like a failure because she didn't accomplish the goal she set, would you say, "Well, that's because you're such a loser!" *wink*

When those negative thoughts invade your consciousness, deliberately replace them with supportive, positive and encouraging words. Believe it or not, many of the most successful people make it a habit to give themselves pep-talks. Although it's lovely when we receive outer validation, we can't depend on it. You Must Be Your Own Best Friend.

"Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them - every day begin the task anew." --Saint Francis de Sales

Towards that end, surround yourself with friends or colleagues who also support your goals and provide the encouragement you need to stay on track. Do your best to avoid those whose criticisms discourage you whether by their actions or their words. My friends know not to call when I work, and when they do call they always ask if I'm in the midst of writing. Their actions declare their support as much as their kind words.

"Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher." –Oprah Winfrey

Now, you tell me. How do you tackle the procrastination bug? When vacillating between manuscripts, how exactly do you select which one to write? What's your favorite method for staying on track?

Here's to a wonderful week bursting with productivity and focus!

Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between The Lines.

For those who love to study the craft, you might find this of interest:

Romance University's Weekly Class Line-up.

The faculty at Romance University is pleased to announce our line-up for this week. We hope you'll stop by at .

Mon, 7/27 Crafting Your Career: Bestselling author Bob Mayer will discuss career strategies.

Wed, 7/29 Anatomy of the Male Mind: Bob Mayer returns to share his thoughts on the male/female creative process.

Fri, 7/29 - Chaos Theory of Writing: Bestselling Author Allison Brennan joins us with Breaking Rules to Break in or Out.


Linda LaRoque said...

Oh, you are speaking my language, Chrion. I am the queen of procrastination and would have to classify myself as the thrill seeker. I work best under a deadline and tend to waste time when I have plenty of it. Not a good quality I'm afraid. I am working to overcome my bad habits.

Kathy Holmes said...

I'm the one who usually has several wips going at once. Recently, out of sheer desperation and feeling I should give up writing forever, I decided on one - the one I felt I couldn't walk away from.

I also get in trouble talking in class - FB, twitter, blogs - but now I must discipline myself and make some progress on my wip. :)

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

I can procrastinate with the best of them and the worst part is, if I would just DO IT, it'd take me 5 minutes and I could be done with it. It's ridiculous and I'm working on it. Slowly. :)

When I'm supposed to be writing but somethings not working for me and I find myself getting up and looking for something to clean, that's when I KNOW I'm in trouble. I HATE to clean.

However, it usually gets my mind working and, like you said, I do something productive while I'm procrastinating and then can go back and sit down (an hour, day or week later) and write like crazy.

As always, Chiron--great post! (even if I don't always comment.)

Miss Mae said...

I always have only one WIP...hey, my brain ain't out-fitted to concentrate on more than that! LOL But procrastinate? You betcha, especially if I come to a rough spot in my writing. That's about all I need to walk away and do something else. The something else always seems so much more pleasant. :)

Chiron said...

Hey Linda!

Well, at least you do make your deadlines! That's a very good thing indeed. *wink* Knowing our habits is the first step.

Thanks so much for visiting and leaving a comment (no procrastination there!). *grin*

--Chiron O'Keefe
The Write Soul:

Chiron said...

Hi Kathy,

I'm relieved to hear you pulled out of the abyss. The WIP that's closest to your heart is always a good bet. We all go through ups and downs and no wonder. Writers are often so isolated (we must be to get our work done) PLUS we must deal with the slap of rejections. *sigh*

It's not easy but we can do it! Why? Because, bottom-line, We Are Writers and there is no other path that will satisfy. Hang in there, my dear! I'm rooting for you...


Chiron said...

Thanks so much, Stacey! I laughed when I read your comment because that's my method too. Hate, hate, HATE cleaning so it's a sign I'm REALLY avoiding my writing. *laughs*

But it does give me a feeling of accomplishment which can help cleanse whatever fear kept me away from the keyboard. *thumbs up*

Ah, the glamorous life of a writer. *snort*

Thanks for jumping in, Stacey!


Chiron said...

Hi Miss Mae!

Yes, like you, I can't juggle WIPS, however, to avoid my writing I may be tempted to try and juggle lighted torches!! *laughs* What we'll do to avoid even what we love. Ironically, by writing this essay I had to really LOOK at why I procrastinate and finding a reason gives me hope that I can break this chain.

Procrastinators Unite! (Meeting postponed indefinitely) *wink*

Thanks so much for visiting, Miss Mae.


Celia Yeary said...

Chiron! I was so surpised to see my name here.I remember asking you that question, so now--you have this nice advice on how to nail down one thing--a sort of procrastination,a frozen state that keeps me immobile.
Still, I have difficulty. I actually did choose one WIP and finish the self-edits, but now can't find a publisher for a fit. There simply isn't one, but I don't feel that I wasted My time--because I like the story.
So, I'm taking all your advice to heart, and will try to stop that darn "piddling!" Celia

EA said...

I am not a procrastinator at all, but I still sympathize with those who struggle with this. However, one thing I've learned, some people absolutely thrive under pressure producing some of the best works ever.

Chiron said...

Hey Celia! Suprise! *grin*

Glad you nailed one of those pesky WIP's down. I really hope you find the right publisher. Sometimes it's tough but the 'right fit' is out there.

Good luck and keep me posted!


Chiron said...

EA, good for YOU!! I've met a few of those lucky souls who really don't procrastinate. And you're so right. Some people really thrive on the energy (the thrill seekers) and it's more of an incentive than a problem. Rather like the rush of anticipation, I'm thinking.

Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment!


Rebecca J Vickery said...

Procrastinate? Me??? Well, I will answer that question tomorrow. wink, wink

I am a procrastinator when things aren't going well so the Avoider is me. I will definitely try to refocus and use your helpful hints. Loved the quotes...all were spot on. Great blogging as always.

Chiron said...

Hey Rebecca! *laughs* You can imagine how long I've been putting off tackling this subject. *heh-heh*

Glad it helped. Thank-you, thank-you for the kind words. *big grin*