*WARNING - Procrastination ONLY works if you are the kind of person that can strap on your determination and go ovaries* to the wall when it matters. If you are not this person - stop reading. I cannot help you. Either you plan for everything and do it in a timely manner, or you do nothing at all. In either case, I cannot relate to you.
*why give all the glory to testes?
The General Idea:
Some of us (pointing at myself here) put stuff off until the last minute, and I am here to tell you how to get it all done.
The Set Up:
I am supposed to be updating my webpage right now. Things like adding books, changing color schemes, and providing links. Instead, I am typing these words with no solid plan in place, all in the pursuit of NOT doing the thing I HAVE to do. For example, one time I wanted to clean my kitchen to prepare for a huge dinner party. My husband came home from work to find me reorganizing the pantry. Technically, I WAS cleaning the kitchen. Part of it. The part NOBODY would see. I called it progress. My husband called it being 'Differently Motivated.' But guess what?! In the end, I got the kitchen clean (by 3 AM) AND had a sparkly organized pantry.
I think we are all 'Differently Motivated' at times. I think we all want to run away from responsibility. I think we all want to shuck off the mental load. And I also think we all can. For a bit. Hence, this blog post.
Know thyself - Socrates, de Cervantes, and Mandela had the right idea: the only way to know what you are capable of is to study yourself and reach deep. Questions to ask:
^Do you over/under commit?
^Do you chafe/find comfort in deadlines?
^Do you believe in your ability?
^Do you believe in your goal?
^Who/What are you working for?
I'm gonna be real about that last question because part of the process is about being truthful to yourself. I do things because I want to. Because I want to help AND because I want them done AND because I think I can do it well AND because I want other people to tell me I do it well. I'm not giving my time for praise, BUT I do appreciate being appreciated for the things that I can offer. I believe you do too. Have things to offer. You must because you are unique.
For example, I have 40 plus years of study. I know that if I seriously commit to something, not only will I do it, but I will have a hard time letting go once I am done. If you are not that person, don't sweat it. I don't want to change you. But also, I might not ask you to manage my bid for mayor.
Food for Thought: If you have spent your entire life committing to something and then flaking out at the last minute...well, stop doing that. You're letting people down. Believe me, it is so much better if you just say no in the first place. But say you are the person who comes through 50%-70% of the time (I think I am at about 93ish%), you are more than halfway there. Literally. That's just math. (P.S. - the wine glasses are supposed to represent optimism - at least I think they are half full.)
Think about your patterns and trends and decide if you are the person you need to be. Honestly, I think we all are, to an extent. We ALL face challenges that we have no choice but to weather. What does this have to do with procrastination? Probably a lot (I'm no therapist.) I know that life gets tough and we have to choose how we navigate. I also know that, like anything, the more we practice something, the better we get. Both at putting things off and at getting them done.
It's All About the Timing, Baby - You may find this shocking, but you cannot write a book in a day, or even a week. You cannot plan a camp for 800 middle schoolers in a month. You cannot grow your hair to the floor in a year. You can, however, write a five-page paper in a day* or wash and dry a load of laundry in an hour. We procrastinators know all these things. Sometimes it means we don't eat, socialize, or sleep before the project is due.
*when previously researched.
Become a scholar in your pacing. I know that if I think something will take 10 minutes, it usually takes 20 to 30. My husband's formula is to double every time quote I give him that is over an hour and to triple any estimated time of completion under an hour. It is how we've stayed married for 20 years. I am notoriously slow and supremely distractable. My friend Stacey once told me I had the attention span of a grape. I like to think I am a tart and feisty green grape.
The point is - BE REALISTIC! Set an ABSOLUTE last minute that you can begin. Reverse engineer that bitch all the way to the starting point.
Mentally Prepare Yourself - I'm what some writers call a 'Pantser.' The idea being that I don't outline my stories before I sit down and write them. I just sit at the computer, open my brain, and let my fingers fly. While this is MOSTLY* true, I have NEVER gone into a story without an idea. I always have the thing that inspired it in the first place - a sentence, a character, a joke, a title. I HAVE thought about my story in the shower and while falling asleep. While driving and pretending to listen to my kid talk to me endlessly about his current Dungeons & Dragons campaign. I may start with no words, but I always have an idea.
*I did ZERO planning for this post because it is a form of my procrastination.
Similarly, I do not go into writing uninformed. I have studied the craft for years. Participated in college classes, writing classes, craft classes, master classes, conferences, workshops, and writing groups. I have put myself through the writing process. I have edited and revised. I have learned about
character development and trends in the field. I have networked and read extensively. Even when I have nothing more than a title (Hello A BUTTER BRICKLE DEBACLE), I have a set of skills I can fall back on.
DO NOT commit to something that you do not have the skills to back up. If you really want to do that, take the time to learn the skills before you need to rely on them.
On the PLUS side - The more skills you have in one area, the longer you can procrastinate. Yay!
*Side note - I make mental lists and review them. Sure, sometimes those lists grow and sometimes I forget and sometimes they last a month or two, but the list keeps things in my mind. Incidentally, I also type things into my calendar and set reminders to go with my self-imposed deadlines (see below.) I often make physical lists. In the Notes section of my cell phone, on Post-its, on paper scraps, and in random notebooks (I have a zillion.) Sometimes just the act of writing it down and never looking at it again helps me keep things straight. THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY.
Set Limits - Don't promise to host the whole party if all you really want to do is bring the deviled eggs. That should be on a bumper sticker somewhere. Don't commit to write a novel in a year when you only have a short story to tell. Know WHAT you are willing to do and what you are capable of doing. Also, know HOW WELL you want to get it done.
I used to be all about the goal of perfection. Everything done to the best of my ability. All my heart and soul invested. But that's just dumb. I burned out quick. I learned that 80% effort was okay as long as everyone was safe and all needs were met. I learned that the extras didn't always matter as much as the basics. Depending on what I commit to, my level of an acceptable outcome changes. I will ALWAYS think about how my stories affect the people who read them (though I may sometimes miss things), but I may not care if the birthday banner hangs at a slight angle. Life is about choices and compromises. Sometimes we have to let things go. It's okay. I promise.
Stick to Deadlines - I am a rule follower by nature. I don't like guessing games. I want someone to tell me how they want things done and when to do it. Which is weird because I really hate people telling me WHAT to do. Yup. That's me. A rule-following rebel. However, in terms of procrastination, deadlines are a MUST. Even if they make you chafe, itch, or experience any number of uncomfortable physiological responses. If procrastination is getting things done at the last minute, then the key phrase is getting them done. ON TIME. Or else, isn't procrastination, it's just late.
If you don't have a hard external deadline, make a hard internal one. Either decide it is
going to take you twenty-five years to write your memoir or decide it's going to take 14 months. And remember, even if you procrastinate, you can always do things in steps. A chapter a week that you don't start until Sunday evening is still perfectly acceptable procrastination set within a deadline. We won't kick you out of the club for making progress in increments (as long as you feel the pressure of time and a bit of stress while you do it.)
Take Away Your Choice - The only major commitments I don't follow through with are the ones I never start. That's the easiest way. If I had a brain melt and decided I wanted to take over a non-profit that specializes in teaching poodles how to krump, nobody EVER needs to know if I don't tell them. The same goes for any project you commit to. If nobody knows, you are under no obligation to do it.
If you are determined to complete a project, TELL SOMEONE. Put it out into the world to give it some heft. The more people who hold you accountable, the bigger the chances are that you will get it done. Ask Duolingo. They make you invite friends to keep you going back to their app days after day for their digital high fives and competitive encouragement. Look at my 176-day streak, Angie! I am so beating you.
I am not sure if it is healthy to add another layer of stress by compounding the expectations of other people onto your own, but some people (*cough, cough* me!) need more than intrinsic motivation sometimes. I think that is the people-pleasing part of myself coming through. Be happy people...I mean it.
*Another side note - If this website does not have at least two books listed on the homepage by my anthology release date of July 6, 2022, then I have failed in my much, much-belated attempt to update my webpage to reflect all the cool things happening in my career. If my home page background color is still this tealish-gray color, you have every right to call me out as a non-successful procrastinator. How's that for accountability?
Just Do it Already - Sit down and power up your computer. Lace up your joggers. Call your mother. Suck it up and get started. You've done your mental homework, you've slowly but surely gathered your supplies and your courage, you've set a deadline, told a friend, and have organized your sock drawer.
Just in the nick of time.