by Erin Dalpini
It’s 2:35 p.m. and your piece is due in less than two hours. You’ve known about it for a couple weeks, but here you are with a deadline looming and no copy to show for it. Clock ticking, heart racing, palms sweating, you type and type—like a no-nonsense secretary—and manage to finish your piece well with ten minutes to spare. Proof it, attach it, hit send. And pour yourself a cocktail.
I’m sure this isn’t you.
But if it is, take heart. Up until college, I was quite possibly the worst procrastinator when it came to writing. Somehow, I still managed to get high marks on my papers, but not without the stress and lost sleep that curses habitual procrastinators. Not to mention, I lost out a lot on the writing process, since I was turning in work that could have been better polished. Over the years, I learned to change my ways for the better, and you can too.
Arm yourself against the procrastinator’s curse with these five suggestions:
1. Dive in. The best way to avoid procrastination seems like the simplest one. You have a pile of papers or file folder awaiting your attention, or you’ve just received an assignment (yess!), but your Id would rather eat some pizza or catch a good flick. Pick up that folder, open that email or file, take a good, long look, and just dive in. Allow yourself to get completely immersed in the creative process of planning and drafting your assignment, which is always a good reminder of why you chose to write anyway (rather than doing anything but to avoid a looming project).
2. Focus! We are a society of multi-taskers. With the Internet at our finger-tips, it is easy, actually, it’s downright commonplace to feel bombarded with information, or feel like you’re missing out when you’re “unplugged.” But seriously, unless you’re researching, the best way to get your work done is to close out your email and browser and focus in on the task ahead of you. Try it. It works.
3. Break it down. Sometimes, the reason we procrastinate is because a task or writing project seems so daunting it’s hard to know where to begin. When I feel that way about a project, it helps me to break down assignments into mini-tasks. For an article, for example, break down each component of what it will take to get to the finished product. It can be as simple as 1. Gather information, 2. Write piece, 3. Edit and send, or something more complex, such as 1. Write interview questions, 2. Call so-and-so, 3. Fact- and spell-check interview, 4. Highlight main points, etc. No matter what, having steps to follow (and then following them!) does a world of wonders in place of procrastinating. Bit by bit, you accomplish your goal. And rest easy since you know it’s getting done.
4. “If you’re not early, you’re late.” I’m not sure where I first heard this, but it is one of my personal commandments. Not only does this apply in social situations—going out to dinner, meeting a friend for coffee, etc.—it applies fantastically in the working world. One thing that has helped me meet deadlines on time every time (without feeling stressed to finish my writing), is to plan far in advance and aim to complete my assignments early. Although early doesn’t always happen, because the assignment’s on my radar, I have that extra time cushion so I know it’s getting done as soon as I possibly can finish it, and at the very latest, by deadline day.
5. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” This is perhaps one of my favorite revelations from the wise author and blogger, Gretchen Rubin. Rubin, who writes a blog entitled The Happiness Project, has written a lot about the intersection between perfectionism and happiness. I struggle with my perfectionism so much that it can be a barrier to getting work done. As a writer, I have to remind myself that I can write an okay draft and then come back to revise it, rather than make every sentence flow perfectly the first time around. If I start early, I’ll have time to make my writing sound just right. (If I start late, well, then I really have to throw perfectionism out the window.) Going for “good” helps me get my work done so that I can perfect it later.
Although I had writing in mind when I wrote this list, these tips can certainly apply to a variety of other tasks you may be avoiding. Like that laundry in my hamper that’s calling my name.
I’ve shared some of my secrets with you, now I’m curious: Writers, what are your tips for avoiding procrastination?