What Are You Waiting For?

Woman waiting by doors

photo by Brian Donovan via flickr licensed by CC 2.0

Some writers and other creative types tend to procrastinate a lot. Yeah, don’t look at me like you don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m not the only one who does it.

My friend Julie recently challenged me to come up with two lists: one with unproductive procrastination activities, and the other with productive procrastination activities. We decided ‘productive’ in this context means that when you are done with the activity, whatever it is, you don’t feel bad about yourself. Well, you still feel a little bit bad because you didn’t do what you were supposed to do, but not as bad as if you did one of the unproductive procrastination activities.

Unproductive procrastination activities

  • Reading random stuff on the internet about celebrities or animals
  • Playing Spider Solitaire on my phone
  • Eating snacks (usually things with no actual nutritional value, e.g., Twizzlers pull-n-peel cherry licorice)*
  • Doing part of a task, then getting bored or distracted and starting another task, so that eventually I have five or six tasks halfway done, and no motivation to finish any of them
  • Thinking about starting a project or a chore and then making it unnecessarily complicated so that the project or chore is never even started**
  • Deleting email
  • Re-reading email that’s been sitting in my in-box and still not doing anything about it
  • Thinking about how: I can’t get anything done; I am lazy; other people are so much more productive than I am, etc., etc.
  • Playing Sudoku on my phone
  • Window-shopping on amazon

Your list might be somewhat different, but the common factor is the feeling of self-loathing that comes along afterward.

Productive procrastination activities

  • Sweeping & vacuuming
  • Folding laundry
  • Reading a novel
  • Talking to a friend
  • Making lists
  • Yoga
  • Having a cup of tea
  • Cleaning out a shelf or a drawer (just one!)
  • Practicing tai chi
  • Going through the fridge and throwing out scary things
  • Going for a walk
  • Picking up things that have migrated around the house and putting them away

Procrastination is a form of resistance, the anti-creative force that Steven Pressfield described so eloquently in The War of Art. Like any other form of resistance, you can beat it, but your victory isn’t permanent. You’ll face the same battle the next time you try to do something creative.

My best strategies for overcoming procrastination and getting creative work done are:

  • Give myself a deadline; and
  • Make myself start working while telling myself I’m only going to work on it for 10 minutes or for a single page.

For me the hard part is getting started. Once I actually start typing, more than half the battle is won.

*Actually a single serving of Twizzlers pull-n-peel cherry candy has 2% of the RDA for iron. Practically a health food.

** An example: mopping the kitchen floor turns into cleaning out the pantry and dusting all the shelves and finding places for all the things that we don’t have room to store in the pantry and unloading the dishwasher and taking out the garbage and and and…