Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Putting off the inevitable (or trying to)

Here and on our Wiki, the issue of procrastination has been mentioned a couple of times. This is definitely something I’ve experienced as a writer, although not in relation to this project. The quality and strength of our collaboration has really motivated me here. That’s a lesson we should probably take to heart.

Usually I am a very accomplished procrastinator. I often experience resistance to writing, and sometimes it’s very strong. Hoping to help, a friend once bought me a book on motivation written by a well-known psychologist. You’ve guessed it – I never got around to reading it. Mindful that this is a live issue for me, I won’t presume to offer any advice, but I would like to open the topic up for discussion by floating a few of my ideas.

I suppose there are two approaches we might take. The first is to use sheer willpower, tackling our resistance head on. There’s something to recommend this, although I do remember reading about experimental studies which suggest that willpower will only take the best of us so far. In terms of grit, I recognize that I’m probably lower down the continuum than nearer the top, so I generally favour a strategy which involves treating myself rather like a toddler with limited internal resources. In short, I bribe myself.

Each day, I decide what I want to do and what my reward will be. The reward should be in proportion to the task accomplished and administered soon after its completion. For example, today I wanted to finish editing a short story I am working on. This took me about an hour and a half, after which I sat down with a cup of coffee and two tracks by Gotan Project (yes, I know that’s technically two rewards, but I can make a coffee last for a very long time if I don’t have an additional regulating mechanism). Then, on to the next thing. It works for me.

A friend of mine, who responds well to routine, sits down to work at exactly the same time each day. In the spirit of the sports shoe advertisement, he doesn’t ever think about what he’s going to be doing, he just does it.

What do you do?


Anonymous said...

Hiya Lynn - I have a few tactics to get me through - and they vary slightly depending on the task itself:
1. Big tasks like writing a book: similar to your organised ffriend... I have a routine - get up at the same time every day - yoga for half an hour (stops the neck & shulder muscles siezing up when writing) - write till 2000 words - then stop - even if half way through a sentence (then reward).
2. Smaller tasks like a paper: work with other people! I write collegially because I keep to deadlines if I have to have something read or written by a certain deadline because other wise I am letting someone else down.
3. Ongoing multi-tasks - work! Have big diaries and lists with lots of task and an open 'box' ready to be ticked off.
Not perfect and I still let things slide occasionaly - but it's getting me there.
Good luck - Sandra

Lynn said...

Hello Sandra, Fab that you mention yoga, thereby reminding us that mental activity really needs to be balanced out by a bit of movement.

For me, because my geek streak is a mile wide, ticking things off lists and moving papers between boxes is in itself a reward (nerdy laugh).

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