We all know what procrastinating means. Some of us do it daily, others less often but we do fall victim to scheduling our biggest goals for the never-coming tomorrow.
And we do know it doesn’t help. It doesn’t make us feel better. On the contrary, it only makes us feel worse.
Instead of doing that thing and getting it over with, we feel the constant pressure of deadlines. Or if the deadline is self-imposed or missing altogether, we just know, in anything we do, we should be doing that other thing we are not. That other thing we postpone but never remove from the to-do list. Ending up feeling like a failure pretty much all the time.
There are already so many sources out there on how to combat procrastination. Apps, the Pomodoro technique, mental games of rewards and punishments. So here I will not speak about that. I won’t focus on giving tips on how to stop putting things off.
I want to focus on one aspect I don’t see covered as much. I call it the Procrastinator’s Pitfall. It is especially pronounced in creative people, even though each postponer suffers from it.
It is the pitfall of starting something, leaving it for (quite) some time and then coming back to it, only to realize you are not the same person who started it.
Obviously, this is not the biggest issue you face if you are preparing a company’s annual report or a university presentation on perfect competition.
But if you are writing an article, a book, preparing a life plan, painting a picture, or doing anything else that requires the output first pass through your personal viewpoint, then you are a bit fucked.
How many times have I started writing something, then started another, then another, never finishing any of these? Then I try to come back finish the first piece but guess what – I can no longer remember/relate to the point I was trying to convey back then. So I think I’ve hit writer’s block. And I keep procrastinating. And I start more things I never finish. And I keep feeling like a total failure.
Now you might ask why would I want to produce anything that I can’t relate to. Of course, I don’t want to. But back then, when I had this fresh idea, I was relating to it. I had it all mapped out in my brain but then I lose the map. Sometimes I simply cannot remember where I was going with it. What a comparison/point I was trying to make.
And that feels so bad. Having something (possibly great) on your mind and then losing it simply because you were too lazy, too far from a comfort zone, too much of a procrastinator.
This is why I strive to finish anything I start in one sitting. I can always edit later. I can always throw that paper in the bin. But I will have the amazing feeling of achievement. Of having finally finished something.
It is true that the one-sitting approach can’t always work. Book writers, you’ve been dealt the poor cards. As much as you try, fighting physiological needs like sleep, eating and toilet would only work for a few hours.
But this is why you have a word count. A daily goal works just perfectly. You achieve it and then are free to do whatever. In your newly-achieved exhilarated state of non-procrastinator.
And guess what? You are then far more likely to come back write tomorrow. Because now you are confident you can. You saw yourself do it yesterday, so what would stop you today? Whereas never achieving your goal and feeling like a failure is not really conducive to future accomplishments.
Surely, in the case of writing a book or dealing with another lengthy creative process, you can get stuck for real. You may have no clue where you want to take the story next. And that’s okay, then it is indeed recommended you drop that thing and do something else.
So that you can actually come back not the same person who started it. So that you have a new perspective and tons of fresh ideas.
Sometimes a book is just waiting for you to grow and become the person who can write it. And it is willing to wait.
That’s where another important point comes. If you can’t finish in one sitting and you feel completely stuck and know you won’t do that thing, please remove it from your to-do list. At least for today.
As soon as you feel yourself postponing something that should have been done today and you know you are not doing it anyways, better not to force yourself do it late-night and at the expense of sleep and lots of frustration, ending up not finishing again.
This is by no means to tell you to drop streaks and hope for a better day. No, just have a productivity deadline.
You know at what time you want to be in bed. You know all the other things you would like to do today. This is why you always get the advice to do the hardest thing first. As because of it you are likely also not to do the easy ones. Wasting time “doing it” but actually distracting yourself with stupid stuff.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Try today and if it works – great. If not, simply say you need a break and come back tomorrow. Tell yourself you need to be a different person to finish this.
And believe me, you can change so much in a single day. You can be bombarded by realizations, inspiring situations, anything you never thought would move your art forward.
So yeah – the idea here is not to beat yourself up. To try to avoid the loss of confidence due to feeling like a failure. If you really, really want it, you will do it. You must do it. And most of the time, you must force yourself do it.
Believe that life’s got your back and it won’t let that dream goal escape. It will give you the needed guidelines, but from then on – it is up to you.
If books would auto-write themselves… the world wouldn’t be such a beautiful place would it?